Foreign doctors 'exploited' by three Midlands NHS trusts and used as 'cheap labour'

261023 - FOREIGN DOCTORS - ITV News Central - Lynne Cameron/PA Wire - Ellen Knight
Credit: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

Several NHS trusts in the Midlands have been accused of using foreign doctors as "cheap labour", with training schemes branded "exploitative", an investigation has found.

Foreign doctors are able to work at English hospital trusts for two years as fellows, to gain experience to implement in their home countries.

An investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) claims some fellows are paid less than other employees, and are given fewer benefits.

Since the scheme began in 2009 there have been almost 7,000 trainees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

The BMJ said it found an agreement between the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP) with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham Credit: PA Images

This agreement led to trainees being paid less than trust-employed workers.

The investigation claims senior fellows from Pakistan who worked at UHB as grade three specialty trainee (ST3) registrars or above were paid a stipend of between £2,700 and £3,600 a month by CPSP, which is the equivalent of £32,400 to £43,200 tax-free a year.

They are not guaranteed overtime pay or pay for on-call work.

The BMJ said UHB would not confirm the exact equivalent salary details, but, according to NHS payscales, ST3 doctors employed by the trust were paid £51,017 in 2022/23 and £55,328 a year in 2023/24 as a basic gross salary, excluding any overtime or enhanced hours payments.

One consultant claimed UHB was using fellows as "cheap labour."

Another senior medic at the trust praised the scheme for its training opportunities, but highlighted a lack of equal pay and rights.

But UHB said that it was not representative to compare the two pay scales.

It said the BMJ had compared the net tax-free pay for international training fellows to the gross pay on an ST3 NHS doctor.

The Trust said that the net pay for an ST3, after taxes and student loan assumptions, could be around £2,670 which they said was ‘reasonably equivalent’.

A spokesperson for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said:

"The issues the BMJ is raising here are very concerning. All doctors should be paid the correct rate for their work, regardless of whether they are on the MTI scheme or not.

"But this is a matter between the doctor and the NHS organisation that employs them."

Under the uncovered deal, fellows at UHB also do not get paid parental leave, the BMJ claimed.

One doctor told the investigation she was sent home when she revealed news of her pregnancy.

"One lady from the international team seemed angry and said “we don’t expect you guys to get pregnant while you’re here” and that my fellowship would be terminated," she said: "It was a shock to me how she spoke."

Michael Newman, an employment lawyer at law firm Leigh Day, told the BMJ that by law, every worker is entitled to maternity leave after they begin employment.

He added that they are also entitled to statutory maternity pay after 26 weeks of employment.

Mr Newman described the conditions of the scheme as "exploitative."

Walsall Manor Hospital is part of the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust. Credit: PA

In light of the BMJ investigation, the CPSP says they will review and overhaul some guidelines, but added that the scheme has improved healthcare in Pakistan.

A spokesperson for UHB said the programme "undoubtedly benefits the NHS system, but in return it benefits the overseas healthcare structure."

They said:

"Programmes which encourage the upskilling of medical practitioners from countries with less-developed healthcare systems have been described by the WHO as a ‘brain gain and not a brain drain.'"

Diane Wake, chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, told the BMJ the trust was "not responsible for [staff] renumeration" as the trust "[does] not directly employ staff who are a part of the medical trainee scheme.

She said:

"Our trust has not received any concerns from our MTI colleagues, however, should they have any that they would like to raise with us directly, we would be more than happy to look into them."

She added that any overtime would be paid at the bank rates used for all trust medical staff and that fellows all receive 28 days free accommodation on arrival.

Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust said it has recruited three MTI fellows under the CPSP scheme, who are due to start in November, but does not have any in post at present.

A spokesperson said: "The job description, person specification and rota patterns have been reviewed and approved by the dean."

An NHS spokesperson said:

"While the salary of these positions is agreed between the individual trust and their international partner, fellows play an important role in treating NHS patients at the same time as learning new advanced clinical skills in a high-quality and fair learning environment, before returning to their home country."

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