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UK ban on recruitment of paramedics – Curse or blessing for Ghana?

Health workers

In the wake of the United Kingdom (UK) government’s revised code of practice for international recruitment of health and social care personnel from countries which include Ghana, should our Ministry of Health worry or toss it over as inconsequential?

From a list of 54 countries, mainly from developing countries, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), which until then was recruiting paramedics to supplement their services, is now saying that those countries should not be targeted when actively recruiting health or social care professionals.

Brain drain

As a country, we have had cause to lament, time and again, over the brain drain of our professionals, especially paramedics. We have whined that medics trained with taxpayers’ money should not abandon ship on completion of their courses and should be made to stay and help improve our healthcare systems and the ratio of doctors to the population.

In light of the above, therefore, it must be welcome news if the UK government will now not come openly knocking at our doors to take away one most critically trained professionals for community service.

For us, any number we save will definitely help improve the alarming doctor-patient ratio which, by available figures, reportedly stood at one doctor to ten thousand, four hundred and 50 people (1:10,450).

Amazingly, the recommended ratio by the Commonwealth, of which the UK is the head, is 1:1,500, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) ratio stands at 1:1,320. Comparatively, the UK’s own ratio stands at 3.18 doctors to 1,000 people.

So if this sorry ratio for Ghana is going to be brought down, albeit a drop in the ocean, why should we bemoan the UK’s revised code of practice? We should be clapping for it.

I have been a great cheerleader of those private medical colleges that have come on board in the last decade or less.

I have been to two graduation ceremonies of Accra College of Medicine in the past, for example, and, witnessing the multiple award-winning new doctors they graduated, the quality was just remarkable and encouraging.

If for nothing at all, those private medical colleges will eventually help in a way to bridge the gap even with the handful of doctors they have and will be able to graduate in the future.

Their addition to the numbers that the public medical schools will give us will go to help.

As one understands it, yes, the UK government’s announcement does not stop individual doctors from making their own arrangements to go and practise in the country.

But one cannot also rule out the fact that any health facility in that country recruiting from any of the listed countries would be guided by their government’s recent announcement.

Additionally, countries like the USA, Canada and Australia, where one is likely to find a number of Ghanaian doctors practising, may not necessarily have “revised” their notes on international recruitment of health and social care persons. So, will the drift be in that direction? That may not be our worry for now.

Ministry of Health

What should be our concern is for our Ministry of Health to begin to see UK’s directive as a blessing and an opportunity to put structures in place to make them employers of choice.

Such arrangements should include continuous training, better remuneration systems, attractive working environments and other such conditions that would attract and retain health personnel in the country.

We may not strike a perfect deal but that is okay. It may be a work in progress, for even in the UK and other advanced countries, doctors and nurses go on strike for days asking for better remuneration.

If our private health institutions can support and retain their staff with better remuneration, why can’t our public health institutions do so for their staff or be made equally attractive? Health is wealth and the nation stands to gain with a better health system.

Luckily, our Ghana Health Service has been said to be one of the most efficient in the world. We witnessed this during the peak of the pandemic when the service kept its cool in the management of the COVID-19 situation across the country.

They proved to the world that given the necessary support, they could do the job just as one saw in the 1960s and 70s.

Some of us who lived through the 1970s with critical medical cases will always celebrate the calibre of paramedics of those times. Their commitments and dedication to duty were just splendid.

Those medics worked tirelessly to save lives. They certainly made one understand that they had chosen to serve humanity and save lives not merely for remuneration. One believes that is so today too.

That is why up to today, some of us empathise with doctors in the public sector when they ask for a bit of a push-up in their salaries to cope with the general pressures of life.

On the back of what the UK government is saying, therefore, let us take the silver lining in it and work to improve the conditions of our paramedics to stay and stick with us. Home is home and to help save and improve lives is their fulfilling calling.

Vicky Wireko

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