The British Medical Association has joined other leading medical bodies in calling on the Government to end longstanding immigration rules that stop overseas doctors bringing adult relatives, such as elderly parents, to Britain so they can look after them.
The BMA has signed a joint letter1 to the Home Secretary asking her to remove the restrictive adult dependency rule (ADR) for these doctors, highlighting the impact current regulations have on their own wellbeing and the threat it poses to the future medical workforce.
The rules, introduced in 2012, mean that settled overseas-trained doctors are only allowed to have their dependent parents join them if they can prove that they require a level of long-term personal care that they are unable to get in their home country, either due to cost or availability.
The joint letter from the BMA, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe (APPNE), the Royal College of GPs, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, states:
“The impact of the rules has been to permanently separate elderly parents from their UK-settled children, and this has had a considerable impact on the mental health of our members, with many reporting increased stress and anxiety over the welfare of their parents, and their care.”
“Not only is this extremely challenging for consultants, GPs and experienced doctors who already have busy and stressful lives, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it means they are often forced to take leave, and even make multiple journeys, at a time when our NHS needs their dedication and experience more than ever. The situation has even left some doctors feeling that their right to a family life is being disregarded and has led to a feeling of despair and a risk of burnout.
“There is no statistical evidence to suggest that the cost of lifting these restrictions for doctors on the NHS would be a burden to the taxpayer. Perversely, the potential loss to the NHS if these doctors, (many of whom the UK has spent money on training) feel they are forced out of the country due to their inability to care for their elderly parents in the UK, would likely be far greater.”
The letter also highlights that, now the Brexit transition period has ended, this policy will affect doctors considering travelling from the European Economic Area to work in the UK.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“The UK owes a debt of gratitude to doctors from overseas who have travelled here to offer their services, skills and expertise to our NHS, which has historically struggled with workforce shortages. Specifically, the pandemic has shone a light on the invaluable contribution and dedication of these committed clinicians, battling the virus on the front line, caring for patients – and who sadly have disproportionately lost their lives to Covid.
“These doctors, already under a great amount of pressure from their work, should not face further stress and anxiety worrying about their elderly relatives thousands of miles away. If the Government truly values our overseas doctors and the contribution they make to our health services – and wants to make Britain an attractive place to come and work– they must show flexibility and compassion in allowing them to bring their elderly relatives here so they are able to look after them closer to home.”
Indian-born Dr Kamal Sidhu, a GP in the north-east, has been in the UK since 2003 and raised a family here, but has been unsuccessful in bringing his elderly parents to Britain.
Dr Sidhu told the BMA’s The Doctor magazine2 that being so far away from his parents “causes a huge amount of anxiety and distress”.
He said: “We [overseas doctors] live in a constant state of guilt for not being able to be with our parents when they need you.
“There have been colleagues of mine who have lost their parents and have not been able to see them in their last moments.
“I don't switch my phone off during the night in case there's an emergency call. You worry at all hours about getting a phone call. My parents are at that age now where you do expect them to have health problems.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder why I'm continuing with this status quo. You think about going back [to India] but you're torn between your families, your children live here and go to school here in the UK and you have your career here. You're faced with essentially having to uproot all of that.
“There is a huge psychological impact on doctors through this policy. Unless the rules are amended, the UK will continue to be a less preferred destination to overseas doctors than other countries.”
“We are not talking about opening floodgates as the number of potential applicants is relatively small, but the benefits massively outweigh any economic argument against. The disruption to the health service due to unplanned emergency trips – the impact it has on patient safety and continuity – cannot be understated.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.