Germans keep the NHS alive

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THE number of German junior doctors working in the NHS has increased tenfold in the past five years and an estimated 1,000 are now working in British hospitals, where they are helping to keep casualty units open. In 1989 there were just 109, and General Medical Council records show the number rose to 600 by 1993. Medical staff agencies which recruit doctors from abroad say this has now soared to a record 1,000.

Last week, one of the leading agencies, Humares, which recruits doctors from Europe and South Africa, was dealing with requests from 64 NHS hospitals for junior doctors. The agencies, which charge £600 commission, are now launching campaigns in Germany, the Netherlands and South Africa to attract more doctors to Britain. Dr John Williams, head of Humares, said: "Without these doctors, the NHS wouldn't keep running."

One reason for the intense recruitment drive is the exodus of Britain junior doctors in search of better pay and shorter hours abroad. One in five junior doctors leaves Britain within five years of qualifying, according to a recent survey by the independent Standing Advisory Committee on Medical Manpower. In New Zealand, for instance, a junior doctor can earn £22,000 a year for a job worth around £12,000 in the UK. Later this month the BMA will hold a seminar for doctors considering working overseas.

Hospitals in Hull, Peterborough, Strathclyde and South Wales all reported staffing crises last week because they were unable to recruit junior doctors. In Merthyr Tydfil, Carluke and Peterborough, GPs are being asked to help out in understaffed casualty units. On Friday, the Prince Charles hospital in South Wales appealed to patients to limit visits to casualty because it was four junior doctors short.

Jill Spicer, medical staffing officer in Shrewsbury, where seven overseas doctors have been recruited to the district general hospital, said: "All hospitals are having recruitment difficulties, particularly in accident and emergency departments."

Hannes Muller-Ehrenberg, a German junior doctor working in Shrewsbury, said: "It is very difficult to get jobs in Germany.The training here is better and so is the money, £1,300 a month compared with £900."