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Poaching doctors from abroad is unethical | Letters



As you report (8 June), the UK is importing an ever-increasing number of doctors from abroad to plug staffing gaps in the NHS. The majority come from low-income countries where they are desperately needed. This ongoing practice raises serious moral and ethical questions.

Guidance is enshrined in the World Health Organization code of practice, which states that “member states should discourage active recruitment of health professionals from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers”.

In 2021, 63% of new registrants with the General Medical Council qualified abroad. There were 7,377 British graduates, 2,591 from European Economic Area countries and 10,009 international medical graduates, almost all from low-income countries outside Europe.


This is because successive UK governments have realised that it is cheaper to import doctors than to train our own. Medical school places in the UK are strictly limited by cost, to the detriment of thousands of aspiring students.

Between 2016 and 2021, the GMC imported 53,296 doctors from abroad, but no data has been published on their destination. Are they working in the NHS, in the private sector, not working, or have they used their GMC registration to transfer abroad? That audit must be done.

We must train more doctors in the UK as a matter of urgency. Poaching doctors from abroad on this scale is not in the best interests of the NHS or the donor countries.
J Meirion Thomas
Consultant surgeon


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