A pioneering doctor who organised Britain’s first successful organ transplant from a six-day-old baby believes the junior doctor row could put frontline medical services at risk if it is not resolved soon.
Dr Gaurav Atreja said the NHS was already facing a staff shortage crisis, but the row over doctors’ pay and tighter border controls may put off potential doctors in India from coming to the UK.
The consultant neonatologist at Imperial College Healthcare Trust won the GG2 Pride of Britain Award in October.
He told Eastern Eye it was “a shame” that the government spent so much money on training doctors in Britain, who then end up moving abroad because of the lack of opportunities here.
“The NHS is at a stage now where there is a staff shortage,” Dr Atreja said. “In neonatology we are short of skilled doctors and that does put the service at risk, and sometimes it’s unsafe.
“There is an acute need for the government to change their policies, there should be a definite change in the next year or so, otherwise it’s becoming more and more difficult (to provide healthcare services).”
The row between junior doctors and the government over a new contract has escalated in recent months after trainees said they would be forced to work longer hours for less pay and extra pressure. A planned strike last week was cancelled following a last-minute breakthrough in talks.
“It’s a shame the government spends so much resources on training doctors here locally; once they are fully trained they go abroad because they don’t get the opportunities and money here. If you compare a professionally trained doctor in Australia to here, the salary is double.”
The 41-year-old arrived in the UK from India in 2004 and said in terms of wages not much has changed since then.
“There’s no change in the amount of money, and on top of it the government is asking for longer hours. Benefits are less and it’s a legally binding contract. There’s no flexibility.
“That’s a dangerous situation to be in, because on one side you are saying to doctors, you’re not going to get good money, and on the other side, you’re not getting overseas doctors as well.
“We are reaching that stage where there’s an acute shortage of skilled doctors who are able to run services – and that’s going to be quite tricky and dangerous. We can see on the frontline that these things are causing difficulties.”
Dr Atreja made headlines last year following a medical breakthrough which enabled him to carry out the first-ever neonatal transplant in the UK. Life had changed for him after the operation, he said.
“It’s one of the pioneering events of last year that got a lot of attention from the healthcare sector. I’ve been to lots places talking about it and I’ve come to know a lot of people.
“I didn’t perform the procedure with my own hands since I’m not a surgeon. I was the consultant during that time and facilitated the whole process, so it was done under my supervision.”
The baby’s kidneys were transplanted into a patient with renal failure, and her liver cells were transfused into two other recipients.
The donor was a baby girl born after an emergency Caesarean section in the neonatal unit of Hammersmith Hospital in London. She weighed just over three kilograms but was very sick. It became clear that her brain had been starved of oxygen for a period during the pregnancy.
“The kidneys went to an adult and the liver cells went to two other infants successfully. It’s a milestone how a small baby can give life to three people. The person who got the kidneys was discharged home. Even though it’s from a baby, the kidney is fully developed and it will grow.”
He revealed that at the time he knew the operation might not have been a success.
“I knew it might not be successful because there were so many stumbling blocks – even a small technical glitch can lead to failure,” Dr Atreja explained.
“The organs are so small, but we were aware and the parents were aware about this too.”
He added that since his operation, four other neonatal teams have carried out the operation in the UK.
“Since then I have been contacted by various other teams across the country. There have been four more similar to ours, two of them have contacted me and asked how they should proceed. It’s becoming more common practice.
“It’s been done abroad, in America, Germany and some other European countries, so we were lagging behind in doing this.”
Launched in 1999, the GG2 Leadership Awards are organised by the Asian Media & Marketing Group (AMG), publishers of Eastern Eye and GG2.
The coveted awards, which attract a high-profile audience at the annual event in London, highlight and showcase ethnic achievement, talent and leadership.
For more information, go to http://www.gg2.net/awards