MERSEYSIDE hospitals are exploiting foreign doctors by forcing them to work longer hours and for less money than their UK-trained colleagues, the British Medical Association has claimed.
Many highly-qualified medics wget around £25,000 a year less than their colleagues and work 73 hours per week - well over the recommended 48 hours.
Last night, a senior BMA figure said the foreign doctors, who are all staff and associate specialists (SAS), demanded they be treated more fairly.
Dr Mohib Khan, chairman of the BMA committee which represents SAS doctors, said he had never encountered such exploitative terms as in the Mersey region. There are around 300 SAS doctors in the region, nearly all of whom are non-British. They make up around half the doctors in A&E departments.
Dr Khan said: "It is just cheap labour from another part of the world."
Dr Om Bansal, regional chairman of the Mersey SAS committee, added: "Vulnerable but highly-trained doctors from overseas are certainly being exploited in the region."
The inequalities were uncovered in a BMA report, which looked at how many hours SAS doctors worked and how much they are paid.
The average full-time SAS doctor works 73 hours per week - well over the European Working Time Directive limit of 48 hours. This is the maximum number of hours that consultants are contracted to work, and for junior doctors the weekly maximum is 58.
58. It also found that SAS doctors often receive little or no extra pay for working overtime. Where a top consultant would get £85,000, an SAS doctor would earn around £60,000.
This is causing major concerns over morale.
There are also fears that Merseyside hospitals will face a doctor shortage due to large numbers of SAS doctors moving to areas where the pay is more reflective of the number of hours worked.
Dr Khan has written to Health Minister John Hutton to seek an investigation. An NHS Confederation spokesperson said: "We recognise the difference in the standards of the contracts and that SAS doctors are left behind, and this is why we're considering the issues highlighted by the BMA survey."
Deputy Director of NHS Employers Alastair Henderson said: "Staff and associate specialist doctors play a crucial role in the NHS. The Department of Health has accepted a series of recommendations that will value their role. NHS Employers expects to shortly take forward detailed negotiations with the BMA on a new contract for these doctors."
Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust said: "In common with the majority of trusts throughout the UK, we do employ Trust and Locum doctors at all grades on fixed-term locally agreed contracts usually of six months duration.
"They receive at least the same conditions as those on national contracts."
Mersey Care NHS Trust said: "All our doctors are on standard contracts, we value our staff and associate specialist doctors and we value the work they do here."
After 25 years, this doctor gets paid £20,000 less than new consultants
* DR NANIK VASWANI completed his medical training in Pakistan 25 years ago.
The 52-year-old, from Allerton, moved to Ireland in 1983 before heading to Liverpool to work as a urology surgeon at the Royal Liverpool hospital.
He has taken extra examinations to allow him to practise in this country and is highly qualified and experienced in his field.
But because he is a SAS grade doctor, he gets £20,000 a year less than a newly-appointed consultant.
Dr Vaswani said: "There are two grades of inequality for SAS doctors, most of whom are from overseas. One is for SAS doctors who are on standard national contracts and another for SAS doctors on local contracts dictated by individual NHS trusts.
"The former suffer because they do the same work as their non-SAS counterparts but have longer hours and less pay. Their contracts have not been updated like those of non-SAS doctors have been in the last year.
"Consequently, someone like me gets £20,000 a year less than a newly-appointed consultant, though I have to work longer and have 25 years experience.
"The second group is in an even worse position, they suffer in the same ways but much more so.
"You'll get a doctor as well trained as a consultant but working more and getting paid less than a junior doctor.
"I know of many situations where the SAS doctor ends up teaching the junior doctors because they have more knowledge than the consultant they're working with.
"I even know one case of an SAS doctor teaching consultants how to do keyhole surgery. He went back to India, largely because of the position of SAS doctors.
"The local contracts need to be got rid of completely and the standard national contract needs to be significantly renegotiated.
"Fortunately, the Royal Liverpool's medical director has guaranteed all SAS doctors will be employed on the national contracts but I don't know if this is the case elsewhere."