Discrimination against migrants in the NHS will make staffing problems worse
The health service needs the best staff, regardless of where they were born or where they trained
“Can I see a doctor qualified in Britain?” inquired the woman.
“I qualified from Oxford,” I assured her.
“I mean a British doctor,” she persisted.
“I was born in Hull, east Yorkshire,” I replied.
Her expression showed she was not satisfied, despite my assurances.
“You mean a white doctor?” I asked.
She nodded sheepishly.
“I am afraid it is just myself and the registrar in clinic today. He’s originally south Indian and has a longer surname than mine. Do you want to be seen for your heart problem today?”
The woman sat down and the consultation proceeded. This conversation in a London hospital in 2016 is one of very few such encounters in the 21 years since I started medical school, but it made me question whether racism was still an issue in the NHS.
When my father joined the NHS in the early 1970s, a totally different world greeted him: signs in pubs said “Dogs and Indians not allowed” and bananas were thrown at black footballers during matches. On hospital wards, his generation faced open taunts from patients and senior colleagues. He and his “coloured” friends were advised, often by senior fellows of the Royal College of Physicians, to pursue jobs in undersubscribed specialties in underserved areas because they would “never be considered, even for interview” in more popular specialties in London or the home counties. In parts of the country where locally trained medics were less willing to work (such as rural Wales or east Yorkshire), the proportion of foreign doctors grew as a result. Regardless, the promises of a better life for their families and better training meant immigration continued to increase.