Medical bodies in Nigeria have told the Federal Government that restrictions by the United Kingdom government’s code of practice for the international recruitment of health and social care workers would not impede the migration of Nigerian doctors to other countries.
According to them, the UK can only define its terms, but it cannot change the fundamental right to freedom of movement.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) were reacting to the UK code of practice, which listed Nigeria among 54 other countries where health workers should not be actively targeted for employment.
The UK explained that the 54 countries were those the WHO recognized as having most pressing health and care workforce-related challenges.
The code read in part, saying: “Countries on the list should not be actively targeted for recruitment by health and social care employers, recruitment organisations, agencies, collaborations, or contracting bodies unless there is a government-to-government agreement in place to allow managed recruitment undertaken strictly in compliance with the terms of that agreement.
“Countries on the WHO Health Workforce Support and Safeguards list are graded red in the code. If a government-to-government agreement is put in place between a partner country, which restricts recruiting organisations to the terms of the agreement, the country is added to the amber list.”
However, Dr. Uche Ojinmah, President of the NMA, reacted in a press interview, saying that Nigerian doctors relocate abroad because of bad governance. He said:
“I don’t actually begrudge the UK for recruiting Nigerian doctors because it’s the poor treatment they are getting from Nigeria that’s pushing them away. If the Nigerian government and people place a premium on Nigerians, they obviously won’t migrate.
“It is okay that the UK is placing us on the lower rungs for recruitment but what about the United States of America, Canada, Grenada, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, Germany, etc?
“Nobody can take away the freedom of movement; it’s a fundamental right. They can only define the terms.”
Also, the NARD president, Dr. Emeka Orji, said doctors can go to other countries to practise their profession.
“The truth is that it is not only the UK that Nigerian health workers go to and even with this list, it only means that they will not only be headhunting our health workers. So, that doesn’t mean people can’t apply to work in the UK,” he said.
The NMA boss also said the restriction might have something to do with the Federal Government’s decision to reduce or even stop the brain drain in the country.
“I know that last year, the MDCN Registrar went to the GMC and the report we got that time was that they discussed how to mitigate the effect of brain drain in Nigeria.
“This is purely speculative but we believe this was part of what was discussed. We can’t confirm that but it is possible,” Ojinmah added.
Earlier, in October 2022, some officials of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) visited the General Medical Council Office (GMC) in Manchester, UK, a public body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners within the island nation.
The MDCN officials who made the visit trip were its Chairman, Prof Abba Waziri; Registrar, Dr. Tajudeen Sanusi, and the Head of Department, Registration, Dr. Henry Okwukenye.
The MDCN later made posts about the visit on its Twitter handle @MDCNOfficial, part of which read: “We had a lot of useful discussions amongst which is the possibility of the UK government to repatriate some funds in line with global health initiatives from Nigerian doctors who were trained with tax payers’ funds.
“Discussion around stemming the tide of brain drain also took place.”
The restriction by the UK comes amid a bill in the House of Reps seeking to impose a five-year compulsory service on doctors as a condition to grant them full practice licence upon graduation to allow them practise abroad, a bill which medical students stood against.
Commenting on the relationship between the bill and the UK’s code of practice, which came up barely three days after the bill, the NARD boss said: “It’s possible the Nigerian government pushed for this (the restriction) but we have not seen any official release to that effect.”
He said that the best and way to reduce the brain drain in the Nigerian medical sector is for the Federal Government to fund the sector and improve working conditions in health centres. According to statistical reports from the GMC, there are currently 11,055 Nigerian-trained doctors in the UK, making it the country with the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK, preceded in the record bt India and Pakistan.
“The government is now complaining that there is a brain drain but we have always known this and we have been talking about it. What is now expected is that government should increase the production capacity so that even when these foreign countries come for the doctors, nurses, and other health workers, you will turn it to an advantage, improve on training, infrastructure, improve your personnel and fund health, so that you will not be complaining to foreign countries to stop encroaching on your medical workforce. What you should be doing is encouraging it as long as you have enough. That is what India did,” added the NARD president.
Apart from Nigeria, some other countries placed by the UK on the red list of ‘No active recruitment’ are Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia.