The BMA and Royal College of GPs are among the medical bodies calling for an end to immigration rules that prevent overseas doctors bringing elderly parents to Britain so they can look after them.
In a joint letter to the Home Secretary medical leaders said the restrictive adult dependency rule needed to be removed because of the negative impact on doctors wellbeing and potential threat to the workforce.
The rules that were brought in 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.
‘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 letter states.
‘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 evidence to suggest that lifting these restrictions for doctors on the NHS would be a burden to the taxpayer, the medical bodies said.
Yet the potential loss to the NHS if these doctors feel forced out of the country due to their inability to care for their elderly parents in the UK, would likely be far greater, it points out.
Because of Brexit, the policy will also now affect doctors considering travelling from the European Economic Area to work in the UK, the BMA said.
Indian-born Dr Kamal Sidhu, a GP in the north-east, who came to the UK in 2003 and raised a family here, is among those who have been unsuccessful in bringing his elderly parents to Britain.
Dr Sidhu told the BMA’s The Doctor magazine that being so far away from his parents ‘causes a huge amount of anxiety and distress’.
‘There have been colleagues of mine who have lost their parents and have not been able to see them in their last moments.’
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.
‘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.’