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Health Worker Migration

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the effect on health services in developing countries of health worker migration from those countries to the UK. (81830)

International health worker migration is a complex issue and one that the UK takes seriously. Some low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have less than one health worker per 1,000 population. The proportion of African doctors who leave is very significant. Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Zambia lose between a third and a half of the doctors they train to international migration. This rapid increase in health worker migration has been partly due to staff leaving their country for greener pastures. As a result the UK has been criticised for employing workers from developing countries. However, poor working conditions, poor salaries and a lack of training and opportunity for advancement have meant that many staff in developing countries leave the public health service. In addition to this, loss of staff through AIDS has depleted many health services.

The UK NHS has responded by putting in place policies to prevent active international recruitment of health care professionals. The UK is the only developed country to have a code of practice preventing its national health service from targeting health care professionals from developing countries. While the code on its own cannot address all the root causes of migration, it plays an important role in ensuring that recruitment is undertaken in an ethical, managed way. In addition to this, DFID supports efforts to strengthen health services in many countries, including to increase human resources. For example, DFID is providing £100 million over six years to support the Government of Malawi's health sector programme, which includes doubling the number of nurses and tripling the number of doctors over the next six years.