The Australian brain drain bleeding the UK’s National Health System dry

The Australian brain drain bleeding the UK’s National Health System dry. By Harry de Quetteville.

The job ads are hardly subtle. “Are you a UK-based junior doctor who wants job stability, great remuneration and the clinical support you need to develop your career?” runs one for the Tasmanian Health Service on the British Medical Journal website. “Base salaries”, the ad wastes no time in declaring, “range from $79,578 to $138,593 AUD”. That’s £42,805 to £74,509, a tempting rise for striking juniors in England, who make from £29,384 to £58,398.

Other medical vacancies Down Under prefer to talk up the “life” component of “work-life balance”. One hospital boasts its employees enjoy “a fantastic mix of restaurants, night-life and cafe culture” with “pristine beaches” and “national parks”. No need to mention the weather — the job on offer is at the Sunshine Coast Hospital in Queensland.

14% of all junior doctors in the UK intend to move to Australia:

NHS junior doctors, who this week walked out on a four-day strike to demand a 35 per cent pay rise, … are signing up in their droves. Last year, a poll by the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents 45,000 junior doctors, found that more than a third planned to move abroad in 2023. And where are they going? Some 42 per cent said they were heading to Australia. …

Such medical migration is helping to fuel a record rush to Australia — a reported net inflow of more than 35,000 a month, the most since statistics were first taken a century ago. Even experienced officials are taken aback by the surge. …

Yep, it really is better:

“Is Australia really the land of milk and honey?,” wrote one on a Facebook forum for UK Junior Doctors in Australia recently. “To what extent is it better than the UK? We poor NHS souls often hear of Australia as the promised land with tons more money, free time, and cooler things to do. Beaches, lovely weather, and better quality of life? But how true is this picture?”

It didn’t take long for the responses to start flooding in. “Everything you heard is accurate, better pay, negotiable leave, manageable workloads,” replied one psychiatrist, adding, “Has great work life balance but if you are interested and motivated, you can also progress quickly. Myself and the majority of the other [senior doctors] at my metropolitan Health Service are from the NHS.”

“Left the NHS approx 5 years ago,” wrote another. “Aus has undoubtedly better work life, better quality of life, better pay. Best decision I ever made.” Then a GP chipped in: “Pay in my experience has been 4x better than UK for similar hours and MUCH less stress. Workload is manageable and up to you. Very chill lifestyle. Love living here.” …

But it is the quality of the healthcare system that is the big difference. “I’m happy that I’m making a difference — the patients that I see are very happy with the care that I give them, and I feel respected,” he says. As a result: “Four or five people from my year at university alone have come to Australia. I’ve been to departments where everyone’s from the UK. I’ve been in an emergency department where there’s about nine or 10 staff and we’re all from the UK. It’s no coincidence that we are all here. People are so fed up with working in the UK, it’s just madness.” …

But it’s not just doctors who are being tempted by these marketing campaigns. In February a delegation from the vast state of Western Australia visited Britain and Ireland in an attempt to fill 30,000 jobs — not just doctors, but teachers, police officers and plumbers too. “We are here to steal your workers by offering them a better life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Police and Defence Industry Minister Paul Papalia, who led the delegation, said at the time. “Our wages are higher and our cost of living is lower,” he added.

It is a pitch that is sure to further swell the UK-born population in Australia, which already stands at 1.2 million – 4.6 per cent of Australia’s total. The question now is can anything stop the brain drain to Australia? …

Meanwhile, the UK is importing doctors from Burma and Russia:

“It takes so long to train doctors. So your quick win is to recruit qualified doctors from elsewhere.”

Australian hospitals and the NHS here are both at it, with each system recruiting about one third of its doctors abroad. “We cannot complain that people are taking our youngest and brightest because we are doing exactly the same,” says Buchan. The difference is that while in Australia one in five foreign-trained doctors is from the UK, in Britain, only one in 100 is from Australia. Indeed, there are more doctors from Russia or Myanmar here than from Australia. …

The UK’s health system sucks:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that it is not money, but the system that is the root of the UK’s healthcare woes. Not that Australia’s system was uncontroversial to set up. Far from it. Medicare took a decade of political infighting, and several elections, to iron out in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Almost half a century on, however, it has led to a system that is highly rated and generates huge patient satisfaction. Almost 90 per cent of older patients, for example, report that hospital doctors listen carefully, treat them with respect, and spend enough time on their case. That is a far cry from 12-hour waits in A&E and beds in corridors, the likes of which have seen public satisfaction with the NHS plummet to record lows.

hat-tip Stephen Neil