Headlines: October 27th, 2003

More health service professionals are to get the chance to work in South Africa on time-limited placements under an agreement which will also see staff from South Africa coming to Britain. The agreement between the two governments is designed to increase the level of co-operation between the two countries in the health sector.The Memorandum of Understanding will also lead to the countries sharing information and expertise in areas such as public health, professional regulation, workforce planning, public-private partnerships and hospital twinning initiatives.

Under the terms of the agreement, signed by the Health Minister, John Hutton and South African Health Minister Dr Mantombuzana Tshabalala-Msimang, South African doctors and nurses will have the chance to work in the NHS on projects with an educational basis. At the end of the exchange they will then return to South Africa, where their posts will have been kept open, and use the skills they have learnt from their time in the UK to support the development of healthcare services in their own country.

Similarly, NHS staff will be encouraged to work in South Africa for limited periods under the same arrangements which already exist at the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust, which is twinned with Tygerberg hospital in South Africa. Around 50 trust employees have travelled to South Africa in the last three years as part of a time-limited exchange programme to work in their hospitals and share best practice.

The Memorandum was developed at the request of the South African government, which is keen to establish a skill-sharing programme with the NHS. Mr.Hutton said the agreement was very much a two-way arrangement, and he was sure that NHS staff would draw huge benefits from their experiences in South African healthcare practices, learning skills that could be put into use in this country.