An NHS trust has sparked fury after warning that immigrant doctors who take to picket lines could be referred to Border Force.
An unnamed medic at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust messaged staff to warn that any medic on a work visa who strikes would have their ‘absence’ reported to the Home Office — which could make any future visa renewals ‘problematic’.
The message, which was circulated on social media, drew the ire of junior medics and the British Medical Association (BMA), which said it ‘will unnecessarily instil fear and doubt’ among doctors.
It comes as junior doctors are due to walk out for 96 hours from April 11 as part of the profession’s worsening dispute with No10 over pay.
The increasingly bitter row has seen 180,000 appointments cancelled so far after medics took to the picket lines last month, with even more disruption expected next week.
This message, sent out by a staff member at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust contained a veiled threat that junior medics who take strike action would have their absence reported to the Home Office
University Hospital Lewisham part of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust where the staff member sent the message to internationally trained junior medics
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has admitted that the message was from one of their staff.
But a spokesperson insisted it is not their policy and apologised for the distress caused.
In a message sent out via Whatsapp on Sunday, the senior medic, believed to be a consultant, said: ‘Any doctor who has visa sponsored by the Trust and decides to go on strike, the Trust will report their absence to Border Force, and this could potentially make it problematic when renewing their visa.’
They continued: ‘Please note that this not a Consultant decision but a Trust decision and is in keeping with most (if not all) other Trusts in London.’
Border Force is the law enforcement branch of the Home Office and is responsible for carrying out immigration checks for people entering the UK.
Foreign trained medics, who are becoming an increasing part of the NHS workforce with a third of new recruits now from abroad, are legally entitled to join a union and therefore to strike if a ballot is successful.
Similar to British born workers, it is illegal for employers to prevent participation in lawful industrial action, or use that participation to impact visa applications.
The message promoted outrage among medics on social media who said it was ‘disgraceful’, ‘appalling’ or ‘xenophobic nonsense’.
And the BMA also waded into the row, with the union’s workforce lead Dr Latifa Patel saying the message was unacceptable.
‘We are deeply concerned by the impact of this communication which will unnecessarily instil fear and doubt in the minds of junior doctors with visas over their legal right to take strike action,’ she said.
‘We, the BMA, are clear that we will not take any form of industrial action that will impact the legal status of a doctor’s visa – either future or present.’
She added that the BMA will support any eligible member penalised for participating in their strike action and issued a warning to other NHS trusts.
‘To employers – we remind you of your responsibility to act professionally – we have zero tolerance for bullying and harassment,’ she said.
A spokesperson for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust told MailOnline: ‘This is absolutely not our Trust policy.
‘We are, and always have been, fully supportive of everyone’s right to strike without judgement, fear or consequence.’
They added that the message was sent in a local Whatsapp group who ‘made a mistake’.
‘It has been corrected internally at the most senior level and we have assured our all teams, including our international colleagues, that this is not our position,’ they said.
Almost 325,000 operations and appointments have been cancelled because of NHS strikes this winter
The spokesperson apologised for the distress the message had caused for staff at a time ‘when we are all pulling together to do our very best for our patients’.
The BMA’s upcoming strike action is scheduled for just after the Bank Holiday weekend when the NHS will be offering a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service and, traditionally, a busy period for the health service.
Junior doctors want an inflation-busting 35 per cent that they claim is needed to address years of pay stagnation.
The Government and the union have failed to commit to further talks after negotiations broke down last month.
BMA advice for junior medics on visas taking strike action warns they can be reported to the Home Office in some circumstances.
This includes if they are absent from work for 10 consecutive workdays and if their salary falls to a certain threshold because of taking strike action.
They add that this doesn’t necessarily mean the Home Office will act against a doctor, as this is left up to their discretion.