G’bye and g’day

There’s a very old canard about a traveller, on arriving at the Australian border control, being asked if he had a criminal record. To which the man answers, “I didn’t know that was still mandatory…”. It’s not a joke that goes down terribly well these days. 

The genesis of the quip is over two hundred years old. On 21st January 1788, a fleet of British ships landed at Botany Bay – and the colonisation of the island continent began.

Key to creating the population of non-native people were the boatloads of criminals transported from Britain to the new land. The discovery of a vast, distant and apparently uninhabited country was highly convenient for the British at the time. As industrialisation went into decline, thousands of workers were left destitute. The gaols and floating prison hulks were overflowing with the dispossessed and desperate. Relatively low-level crimes such as theft, assault, robbery or fraud carried a sentence of penal transportation for seven or fourteen years, or life. 

The last boatload full of unwilling transportees landed in 1868 – which left something of a shortfall of labour. The post war Ten Pound Pom scheme subsidised British citizens to move to Australia for a nominal tenner. By the time the scheme ended in the 1980s, over a million people from the UK and Ireland had taken their chances. 

How the tables have turned. A recent ad, which appeared in the British Medical Journal was featured in the Daily Mail with a mixture of disgust and fear. The ad cheekily asks, “Got that Dr Adam Kay feeling? Come and work in Australia…” It then lists the not exactly onerous conditions, and the highly tempting  £130,000 a year with 20 days off a month.

It doesn’t bode well does it? Fourteen hour shifts in a crumbling building, endless bureaucracy and an increasingly ungrateful population must sometimes feel akin to perilous sea voyage manacled in the hold of a leaky brig. Why have this when you can be sure of a warm g’day, sun, sand, sea and a fistful of dollars? One may be forgiven for wondering if the Australian government is negotiating the lease of fleets of planes and ships to cope with the stampede of British junior medics taking up the offer. 

It’s a worrying scenario. We may take some pride in knowing the esteem in which British medical training is held. Clearly, our creaky system is still something of a gold standard. But that offers scant comfort. Secondly, it highlights something that King’s Fund’s Professor Mark Britnell warned us about years ago – namely the impending worldwide shortage of clinicians, and an unseemly scrabble to steal them from each other. 

We shall just have to draw some comfort in the products coming our way from Australia. Quite the best thing on telly is Colin From Accounts which is set in Sydney. It might even provide some diversion for people waiting for an operation while our home grown docs do a bit of surfing.

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