26 Oct 2009

New research highlights South Asian doctors’ contribution to old age care

Migrant doctors are a valuable part of the NHS workforce but their experiences and contributions have largely gone unrecorded. New research published today by The Open University explores this gap in medical history and documents the careers of South Asian doctors working in the UK from 1948 onwards.

The research, led by Professor Joanna Bornat and funded by The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), focuses on old age care (geriatric medicine) an area which has always employed a high proportion of overseas-trained doctors - currently around 25%. A staffing crisis in the NHS in the 1960s resulted in over 60 per cent of consultant geriatrician posts being filled by overseas-trained doctors and for the next twenty years, geriatrics provided opportunities for this group to start and progress medical careers in the UK.

Professor Bornat said: “Our research shows that many South Asian doctors entered the field of geriatric medicine because at the time, it was less well-regarded by UK-trained doctors. Working with older people was not seen as attractive, did not provide opportunities for private practice and, initially at least, faced difficulties in being included in the system of merit awards which could boost a doctor’s salary. We wanted to record and highlight the huge contribution these doctors have made in shaping medical provision in the UK, and their experiences of working in the NHS, before these first-hand accounts were lost forever. Their determination and dedication has meant that the quality of care for our older population has progressed at a truly tremendous rate. Geriatrics, or old age medicine, beginning in the early days of the NHS, sought to improve health care for older people. Those with chronic conditions were often marginalised and confined to hospital beds without hope of medical attention, South Asian geriatricians have contributed to improving both the quality of care, and to treatment of conditions which, half a century ago would have been left neglected.”

The oral history project ‘Overseas-trained South Asian doctors and the development of geriatric medicine’ interviewed 60 retired and serving South Asian doctors using a life history approach to explore education and medical training, migration experience, working in geriatrics and career development in the NHS.

One doctor described his experience: “Geriatrics represented second class doctors doing second class service for second class clients. I would not accept that. When I first became a consultant I used to get great wad of letters, ‘Will you kindly see this patient and advise’. They didn’t want my advice. They wanted me to remove the body blocking their beds. And I said to myself, ‘I will never become a clinical undertaker. Never. I have learned medicine and I want to practise it.’”

Alex Mair, Chief Executive, British Geriatrics Society said: “Overseas-trained South Asian doctors have played a vital role within the development of the specialty of geriatric medicine. Today, it is one of the largest medical specialties and provides essential high quality healthcare for older people, in particular the most frail who have multiple medical conditions. We commend the hard work of these doctors who cared for older people, who would not otherwise have received diagnosis and treatment, at a time when ‘age discrimination’ was not publicly recognized.”

The Open University research team was led by Professor Joanna Bornat with co-investigators Dr Parvati Raghuram and Research Fellow Dr Leroi Henry. The OU findings and recordings of the interviews will be presented to the British Library to fill a gap in the history of the NHS workforce. For a full copy of the findings report, which contains excerpts from a number of interviews, contact Lauren Hardy 01908 655 614.

Notes to editors

Research at The Open University
The Open University climbed 23 places to 43rd in the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), securing a place in the UK’s top 50 higher education institutions. Results showed that more than 50% of the University’s research is internationally excellent (3*), with a significant proportion world-leading (4*). There has been a 75% growth in competitively awarded research income at the OU over the last five years - a robust measure of our increasing research excellence. The Open University is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education, and is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. It has more than 200,000 students in over 40 countries. Of these, more than 1,100 are postgraduate research students.

About a Life History research approach
60 South Asian doctors were interviewed over a two-year period. The interviewers took a life history approach, starting with childhood and education, going on to medical training, migration experience, working in geriatrics and career development in the NHS. The quoted research source in the release is L028, born in Bombay 1927, arrived in UK 1953.

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