Jeremy Hunt pledged to make the NHS "self-sufficient" after Britain leaves the EU by increasing the number of training places by 1500 per year starting in 2018. Initially it appeared to be an expansion on the number of doctors working in the UK. However, all may not be as it seems - it may not be to increase the existing workforce but to replace the doctors from abroad that we will lose following Brexit.
The NHS has been heavily dependent on medical and health professional qualified from outside the UK with the Health and Social Care sector being the biggest employer of immigrants' from 2002-2008. In fact in 2002 when the Wanless report identified a shortage of staff the increase in NHS staffing of both doctors and nurses came from abroad.
Immigrants have been the backbone of the NHS but it did not stop Theresa May suggesting foreign doctors will only be working in the NHS for an "interim period" until more UK-trained physicians are available. What will happen then ? Will they be asked to leave to return to the "poor country" they came from after dedicating a substantial part of their lives to the NHS?
Lets not forget that 30,472 doctors come from the EU and other countries in the European Economic Area, while 71,139 were trained elsewhere in the world outside the UK. So the 36% of doctors in the UK who initially qualified in other countries may now face an uncertain future as more 'British' doctors are trained.
Putting to one side the fact that this pledge has completely overlooked the reasons for which doctors are leaving the NHS, such as low morale or being burnt out, and that doctors in the new training places won't be qualified for a number of years and therefore the workforce crisis will continue, one would imagine we would be grateful for the doctors coming to the UK to work and should be welcoming them and appreciating those who already work here and help to sustain the NHS?
However it seems English arrogance can manifest itself in various ways and doesn't always have to be in the guise of a football hooligan.
What is especially striking is the language being used. Referring to doctors who have qualified abroad as 'foreign doctors from poorer countries' while referring to those trained in the UK as 'bright, home grown British graduates' is divisive language. This language suggests that those who qualify abroad are not as bright as their British trained counterparts. This rhetoric is dangerous and has the potential for patients to dismiss doctors they perceive as being foreign as inferior as well as making doctors who have trained abroad feel demoralised and undervalued.
Jeremy Hunt asks "Is it right to import doctors from poorer countries that need them while turning away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?" and in doing so almost implies it is the fault of the foreign doctors that British graduates are unable to find jobs or university places when the reality is there are many job posts unfilled as British doctors do not want to commit to an uncertain future in a constantly changing NHS.
This ideology is similar to that used by the Brexit campaign. It is hostile and creates a 'them' and 'us'. In the current climate the headlines about foreign workers sadly don't surprise me but never had I imagined that the NHS, which was founded on the premise of equality for all, would fall victim to the same rhetoric. It hasn't escaped the hateful, divisive dialogue Brexit made acceptable and this cleansing of the NHS is frightening and destructive. Perhaps this is what the government wants in order to achieve the agenda of privatisation?
I want to apologise to every healthcare worker, nurse, and doctor whom I've had the honour to work with from around the world and to say please remember we're #NotAllHunts.