Wednesday, February 28, 2024

NHS ‘putting patients at risk’ by letting 335 staff, including top doctors, do their jobs from abroad thousands of miles from the UK – as far as Australia and Japan

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The NHS has been accused of putting patients’ lives at risk after it allowed hundreds of staff, including senior consultants and managers, to work thousands of miles from the UK.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has discovered that NHS staff at every level are working remotely in places as far flung as Australia and Japan.

Critics last night warned that the ‘unacceptable and dangerous’ arrangements could threaten patient safety.

Professor Karol Sikora, a former director of the World Health Organisation cancer programme, said: ‘Allowing staff to work from abroad is a huge mistake that can only undermine patient safety and the efficacy of treatment.’

Rebeca Bents-Martin, 47, (right) a procurement programme lead for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care System, wrote ‘adios amigos’ on Facebook in February last year, before moving to Spain

One doctor boasted of the 'longest summer ever', posting pictures on Facebook of his family on beaches during eight months he worked from Cyprus (pictured, a post from Rebeca Bents)

One doctor boasted of the ‘longest summer ever’, posting pictures on Facebook of his family on beaches during eight months he worked from Cyprus (pictured, a post from Rebeca Bents)

At least 335 NHS staff from 33 trusts have been allowed to work abroad in the past two years, according to data from Freedom of Information requests. 

They include consultants who can earn up to £126,000 a year as a basic salary, although it is not known how much each of the 335 staff earns.

The real number of NHS staff working overseas is expected to be even higher, as 200 trusts and bodies did not respond to the FoI request and a further 35 said they did not hold such data.

One doctor boasted of the ‘longest summer ever’, posting pictures on Facebook of his family on beaches during eight months he worked from Cyprus.

Until last year, Constantine Fragkoulakis, 42, was employed as a consultant radiologist at Sherwood Forest Hospitals Foundation Trust in Nottinghamshire. 

The trust said its radiologists ‘routinely interpret images and write reports away from the hospitals where they are based’. 

But Mr Fragkoulakis admitted there had been ‘a lot of IT issues, so there was no patient care involved or clinical work’. He added: ‘Essentially it was just meetings that I did.’

Another consultant radiologist, Branimir Klasic, 50, is being allowed to work two weeks each month in Croatia by the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in South Wales. 

It said recruitment was ‘increasingly challenging’ and that it was ‘open to exploring ways of working that ensures we can provide the skills and expertise that our patients need’. 

Meanwhile, a consultant psychiatrist at Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care Trust was approved to work for three weeks in Australia.

One NHS staff member left for Spain just a month after starting her role. Last month she shared a photo from her Andalucia home, writing: ‘There’s worse views from your desk!’ 

Rebeca Bents-Martin, 47, a procurement programme lead for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care System, wrote ‘adios amigos’ on Facebook in February last year, before moving to Spain. She was contacted for comment.

Another case saw a community worker spend ten weeks in Romania, where he lectured at a university. 

Professor Karol Sikora (pictured), a former director of the World Health Organisation cancer programme, said: 'Allowing staff to work from abroad is a huge mistake that can only undermine patient safety and the efficacy of treatment'

Professor Karol Sikora (pictured), a former director of the World Health Organisation cancer programme, said: ‘Allowing staff to work from abroad is a huge mistake that can only undermine patient safety and the efficacy of treatment’

A member of Nottinghamshire Healthcare's executive team worked from Japan for nearly two months

A member of Nottinghamshire Healthcare’s executive team worked from Japan for nearly two months 

Marius Taba – who works as a ‘Gypsy/Traveller/Roma Community Link officer’ in Doncaster – declined to comment but a spokesman for his employer, South Yorkshire NHS, said staff were allowed to work outside the UK ‘only in exceptional circumstances’.

Also, a member of Nottinghamshire Healthcare’s executive team worked from Japan for nearly two months, and Dorset Healthcare University Trust’s head of recruitment worked from New Zealand for 49 days.

Tory MP and Health and Social Care Committee member Paul Bristow said: ‘These arrangements are not appropriate and I doubt they would be tolerated in any other healthcare system.’

Rupert Lowe, Reform UK’s candidate for Kingswood, Gloucestershire, said: ‘Patients across the UK will be shocked to learn that their doctors could be doing highly sensitive work thousands of miles away from them. 

‘It is unacceptable and potentially quite dangerous that senior consultants could be examining scans and making important referrals all while logged in “from the beach”. 

‘Taxpayers expect NHS bureaucrats to be slashing the brutal waiting lists rather than allowing staff to eye up which exotic destination they next wish to ‘work’ remotely from.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We are clear that ways of working, which are agreed between NHS employers and its staff, should never impact on NHS patients or services.’

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