The United Kingdom (UK) recently unveiled a new health and care visa policy apparently designed to attract doctors, nurses and health workers from Nigeria and other countries. The new visa policy is likely to worsen the nation’s doctor/patient ratio and encourage medical tourism. Although UK suspended the issuance of visa following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it later reopened the migration window for care professionals, social workers and their families, to bolster its National Health Service (NHS). The new visa policy will also make it cheaper, quicker and easier for healthcare professionals to come to UK, beginning from August. The fee for the new health and care visa will be reduced.
With poor working conditions in the nation’s health sector, there is no doubt that Nigerian doctors will readily embrace the attractive offer and move to UK.
The envisaged exodus of Nigerian doctors to UK will increase the brain drain in the already beleaguered health sector. Coming at a time the country is still grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should urgently enhance the remuneration of medical doctors to check the development.
The Nigerian health sector is already challenged. Available records show that about half of Nigeria’s estimated 72,000 registered medical doctors practise abroad. Of this number, over 7,000 Nigerian doctors work in UK while others work in America, Canada, Europe, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
With Nigeria’s doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:4, 000 – a far cry from the World Health Organisation (WHO)-prescribed ratio of 1:600 – medical experts opine that it will take Nigeria about 100 years to produce the number of doctors needed by its citizens, even if no doctor leaves the country after training. With the growing exodus of Nigerian doctor to Europe and America, the situation is not likely to improve.
Recently, Immigration officials at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, intercepted 58 Nigerian doctors, travelling to UK for a training programme, an alibi for migrating to Europe. Some of their colleagues and other health workers may have also left the country through such avenues.
Nigerian doctors migrate to Europe and America for many reasons. They include poor working conditions, dearth of functional equipment, inadequate work opportunities, high cost of living, stifling tax regimes and multiple deductions from salary. Insecurity, personal health and concerns about the future of their children make Nigerian doctors and other health workers migrate to other countries. Nigerians spend a lot of money on medical tourism because of the poor state of the nation’s healthcare system. And there is no sign yet that the situation will change soon.
A visit to any government hospital in the country exposes the rot in the system. Some doctors are not committed to their work due to inadequate motivation. The doctors are not paid their allowances promptly. The poor remuneration in the health sector cannot attract or keep our doctors at home. The tendency to migrate abroad is very attractive to resist. The incessant strikes in the health sector can be traced to poor funding and lack of basic medical equipment. For these doctors, the pastures are greener abroad. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the rot in the nation’s healthcare system.
We call on the government to halt the ongoing brain drain in the health sector without further delay. There is need to increase the budget for health. Let government commit 20 per cent or more of the national budget to the health sector. The earlier the government takes the sector seriously, the better for the country. It is in the interest of the nation for the health sector to be given due attention. It is unfortunate that Nigerians rank highest among foreign doctors in the UK and US. This is good news, as it shows that we have good doctors, but sad, as the country is not benefitting from their expertise.
We believe that the best strategy to retain our medical doctors is to create an enabling environment for them to work. This will enable them provide the best services to those that need them most. The government can encourage enhanced private sector participation in the sector to make it comparable with what obtains elsewhere. Everything possible must be done to discourage the emigration of Nigerian doctors to Europe and America.