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UK to review its overseas medical hiring
By Rashmee Roshan Lall,TNN
4 Jul 2007, 1919 hrs IST
LONDON: Britain will carry out an immediate review of overseas
medical recruitment to its National Health Service (NHS) and highly-skilled
migrant workers will face stringent and enhanced background checks, new Prime
Minister Gordon Brown has announced.
After just five days in Downing Street and the top job, Brown told Parliament
his new security minister, former military man Admiral Alan West, would carry
out the NHS review. "It is vitally important that the message is sent out to the
rest of the world that we will stand strong, steadfast and united in the face of
terror," Brown said.
The prime minister's resolute announcement is expected to affect thousands of
Indian doctors and techies in their quest for British jobs. Currently, nearly
28,000 Indian doctors are registered as fit to practice here by Britain's
regulatory overseer, the General Medical Council (GMC).
Informed observers said that Britain's new watchfulness would definitely affect
Indians and other non-Europeans when it comes to applying for sensitive,
"public-facing, customer-orientated" jobs in the medical and high-tech sectors.
The announcement is considered to be yet another step in Britain's security-led
decision to pull up the drawbridge and keep out foreign workers.
The announcement came 72 hours after Britain rounded up an alleged Al-Qaida
medical 'cell' of bombers with a predilection for car bomb attacks. At least two
of the eight alleged conspirators are Indian and confusion continues about the
nationality of Dr Khalid Ahmed, said by some to be Indian, who set himself and
his jeep on fire before ramming it into Glasgow International Airport on
Brown's announcement came just hours after Britain's health ministry insisted
there would be no extra vetting of overseas doctors and medical students.
The ministry insisted vetting was the business of the foreigner' employers,
namely the hospitals in question. Many British hospitals say the checks already
in place are extensive, focusing on medical qualifications, fitness to practise
medicine in the UK, identity and any criminal convictions. Amid signs of obvious
discomfort among health employers here at the idea of singling out overseas
doctors for further scrutiny, hospitals admitted there was little scope in the
existing checks to identify an applicant's radicalism or politically incendiary
The alleged involvement in terrorism of foreign born-and-bred doctors has
triggered shockwaves in Britain, where nearly 40 per cent of all medics
registered by the GMC are from overseas.
Brown said, "We'll expand the watch list- which is the cooperation right across
the world from Europe to the Arab states- of potential terrorists so that we
list them in such a way that authorities of different countries can be warned".
He added, in the first sign of measured, but tough response to the terrorist
threat by Britain's new government, "We'll expand the background checks that are
being done where there are highly skilled migrant workers coming into this
country. Where people sponsor them we will ask them to give us their background
In a dismal analysis for this paper by at least one prominent British figure,
who declined to be named, even Indian scientists might henceforth find
themselves in the grey limbo that passes for security-led purgatory in the
The source pointed out that the US had practically made itself off-limits to
'foreign' scientists and other highly-skilled foreign workers after the attack
on New York's World Trade Centre. The same could happen here, the source warned,
particularly with at least two Indian doctors alleged to be part of al-Qaeda's
technically-savvy army of foot soldiers.
Despite brave and optimistic early responses to news that at least two Indian
doctors are alleged to be Islamist terrorists, leading members of the Indian
medical fraternity finally admitted, sotto voce, that the prime ministerial
announcement bodes ill for Indians and other non-Europeans intent on training or
working in the UK.
Indian doctors are currently waging a long-running battle against the British
government's punitive new immigration and work rules for non-European doctors.
In a case that comes up in the London High Court in October, the doctors allege
that these are unfair and disadvantage Indians as "second class" medics.
But now, at least some Indian doctors admitted they feared the "second class"
label would probably stick and probably held to be deserved because of the
notoriety brought by Bangalorean exports Drs Mohammed Haneef and Sabeel Ahmed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Brown also pledged to expand an international "watch
list" of potential terrorists and deepen and widen background checks out on
skilled migrant workers intending to come to Britain.
He said, at his first parliamentary prime minister's question time session, that
his government would seek to sign new agreements with other countries to step up
cooperation against terrorism and allow Britain to deport suspects.
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