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Terror stigma for overseas medics


20 July, 2007  

The Lancet says there is a danger that the incidents of failed bomb attacks will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the many NHS overseas doctors. And new stringent checks for migrants wishing to work in the NHS, announced by ministers on 4 July, could add further to the difficulties, it says. Bodies representing overseas doctors voiced similar concerns.

A major investigation has been under way in the UK since two car bombs were discovered in central London on 29 June. One day later, a burning car was driven into the main terminal building at Glasgow’s international airport. The suspects are doctors or medical students, among them people who qualified in Jordan, India and Iraq. Experts fear recent media coverage of the events could compound prejudices against doctors from abroad that they say already exist.

Last year, because of a shortage of posts, the government told NHS trusts not to employ overseas junior doctors if there were suitable British or European applicants for positions.

The most recent figures show that over one-third (almost 128,000) of the 277,000 doctors on the UK’s register have been trained abroad.

Following the suspected failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said background checks would be expanded and he called for an immediate review of NHS recruitment. The Lancet editorial warns: “Although criminal checks may be a necessary counterterrorism measure, discriminating against doctors on the basis of race, religion, or country of birth is not. Overseas doctors will be central to supporting the NHS’ inequalities agenda, tackling disparities in health across ethnic minority communities in the UK.This role should not be forgotten as the UK considers existing and future recruitment policies.”