NHS hospitals have become increasingly dependent on doctors who have trained abroad, particularly in areas where posts have been hard to fill, according to a study published on bmj.com today.
Researchers at Oxford University analysed trends in the UK medical workforce.
They found that doctors who trained abroad now represent nearly a quarter (24%) of consultants appointed since 1991. These doctors, many of whom are from non-white ethnic groups, have helped to staff some of the less popular specialties, such as geriatric medicine, psychiatry, and learning disability.
By contrast, younger generations of UK trained doctors from ethnic minority groups have similar career destinations to those of UK trained white doctors, suggesting that differences in career destinations between white and non-white consultants are linked to having trained abroad rather than ethnic origin.
The percentage of UK medical graduates from ethnic minority groups has increased substantially from about 2% in 1974 and will approach 30% by 2005. White men now comprise little more than a quarter of all UK medical students and are substantially under-represented in the current intakes to UK medical schools.
This raises important questions for policy makers, say the authors: should the ethnic mix of intake into medical schools broadly reflect the ethnic mix of the community from which students are drawn? If so, what should be the mechanisms to achieve such representation?