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Medical training under threat from proposed immigration changes

VSO and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) are concerned that the government’s proposed changes to immigration laws announced today, will have a significant impact on a training initiative that increases the quality of medical healthcare in the developing world and has significant benefits for the NHS.

The two organisations warn that the highly effective two year Medical Training Initiative (MTI) that trains about 200 doctors a year from the developing world will be put at risk if the government adopts its proposal to cut the duration of Tier 5 visas for temporary workers to just one year.

The changes will mean that MTI doctors and other workers will no longer be counted in incoming migrant figures.

VSO and the RCP are calling for an exemption for health workers coming to Britain as part of the MTI to ensure they can take advantage of the full 2 years of training.

VSO UK head of external affairs, Kathy Peach said:

The MTI has minimal impact on long-term immigration numbers with all doctors carefully selected and processes put in place to ensure they return to their home countries after their training. A full 2 years of medical training is needed to ensure doctors receive all the skills they need to save more lives in developing countries.

Under the proposed changes it will be easier for an unskilled Australian bar worker to stay in the UK for 2 years than a skilled Sudanese doctor who wants to come to Britain to receive medical training that saves lives, and make a contribution to providing high quality services to patients in the UK.

In many developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, doctors cannot receive their post university training in their own country. They must go abroad for two years to complete their qualifications. Britain has played a vital role in training doctors from countries where the shortage of skilled health professionals is leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year. We are concerned that our good work in helping address needless deaths in the developing world is under threat.

Reducing the MTI to 1 year will lead to doctors seeking training in other countries which do not have the safeguards in place to ensure those doctors return to their home countries, where they are needed most, once they complete their training.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians said:

The MTI benefits the NHS. It makes financial sense by reducing locum costs. The MTI also helps hospitals fill rotas gaps, which has been exacerbated by the limiting effects of the European Working Time Directive and the New Deal on junior doctors’ hours of work. High quality doctors from overseas that speak excellent English make a valuable contribution to the UK health service. Just one MTI candidate can make a substantial difference to a hospital’s ability to provide the best training for junior doctors and an around the clock consultant led service for patients.


  • Currently, there are 340 doctors working in 149 trusts across the UK through the MTI. Of these, 77 were sponsored by the RCP and an additional 205 physicians are due to start posts in the UK in the coming months.
  • Fifty-seven countries worldwide suffer from a severe shortage of health workers. Thirty-six of these are in Africa, which has just 3% of global health workers but bears 24% of the global burden of disease.
  • It is estimated that 23% of doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa are now working in OECD countries.
  • In 2007, an estimated 31% of NHS medical staff had qualified outside the European Economic Area.