Published: 04/07/2002, Volume II2, No. 5812 Page 4

Health secretary Alan Milburn launched a fierce attack on the 'doubters'and critics of the NHS in a speech which particularly criticised opponents of schemes to expand capacity through foreign clinicians.

Giving the keynote address to the HR in the NHS conference on Tuesday, Mr Milburn flagged up the success of efforts to use international capacity so far - and warned against the use of 'restrictive practices' to keep out foreign doctors.

Mr Milburn said that since the NHS global recruitment campaign began, about 500 doctors have been identified as suitable for employment in the NHS, with about 100 matched to trusts interested in employing them. In addition, he said that the NHS International Fellowship Scheme - headed by Sir Magdi Yacoub - looked set to attract 100 doctors for up to two years - twice as many doctors as had been anticipated.

He said he found concerns and resistance to the use of individual overseas doctors 'surprising', and stressed: 'What I will not accept is anyone having a right of veto on NHS patients getting the extra doctors they need.There can be no question of restrictive practices, wherever they are found, standing in the way of an expansion in services for NHS patients.'

Mr Milburn said he last week met providers from France, Germany and Sweden who are interested in bringing clinical teams to Britain and was in 'active'discussions with them.'A key stipulation for us is that they bring their own suitably qualified medical staff with them, rather than seeking to take existing NHS doctors out of NHS hospitals, 'he added.

At the conference, which also saw the launch of the HR in the NHS plan, he announced that the Agenda for Change pay negotiations had reached their final phase.

And he said that this week the Department of Health would write to all trusts seeking expressions of interest in joining the 'initial implementation phase'of the new pay system.

HR in the NHS Plan . www. doh. gov. uk/hrinthenhsplan/index. htm