Terror Stigma For Overseas Medics

Overseas doctors face prejudice after suspected failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, medics have warned.

The Lancet says there is a danger that such incidents 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.

Ethnic minority groups have long been less likely to get senior positions in the NHS.

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 Lancet says: “Such a situation is shameful since the NHS has long relied on overseas doctors to fill workforce gaps.”

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

Foreign doctors who have qualified outside the EU have to pass a series of linguistic and clinical tests before they can register with the General Medical Council.

NHS trusts are also required to carry out identification, passport credentials and criminal records checks on the doctors they employ.

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.”

Dr Pasad Rao, chairman of the British International Doctors’ Association (BIDA), said: “We have some concerns that what has happened in the past weeks will subconsciously have some negative effect on the minds of the public and the professionals we work with.”

He said BIDA welcomed the review of NHS recruitment, but he doubted whether more stringent checks would help prevent terrorist activity.

Dr Maadh Aldouri, president of the British Arab Medical Association, said that more checks might discourage overseas doctors from coming to work in the UK.

But he thought it was unlikely that the public had lost trust in overseas doctors.

“I do not think there will be a backlash. And I do not think the public feel that foreign doctors are more dangerous.”

Dr Edwin Borman chairman of the British Medical Association’s International Committee said the medical profession was doing everything it could to prevent discrimination.