Monday, February 19, 2007

Doctor victim of a sick society

UP and down the country National Health Service authorities are finding ways to sack staff, make people wait for treatment and pass the buck for any services they think they can get away with not providing. We get told there's a "shortage of beds" when what they mean is they are trying to save money and staff by reducing places for patients.

The government says it has poured billions into the health service, but doesn't say how much has gone into the pockets of "consultants" (not medical specialists but outside companies advising on "efficiency") , the overhead costs of the bogus "internal market", and making hospitals attractive for the Private Finance Initiative.

Many of the public, conditioned by tabloids to look for easy scapegoats, tell themselves that granny can't get her hip replacement because the hospitals are "full of foreigners and asylum seekers".

A tragic story in today's Independent highlights the way British racism and the Blair government's policies are hitting, and in this case, destroying, the very people whose skills could help to maintain the service.

Imran Yousaf, a qualified doctor, left his family in their village outside Lahore, in Pakistan, and headed for Britain hoping to start a new life. "Like generations of other young medics from the Indian subcontinent, he thought he was desperately needed in the UK to shore up an NHS critically short of trained staff".

Two years later, having used up all his family savings and borrowed heavily from friends, Dr Yousaf, 28, was unemployed. He had paid for and passed with flying colours the exam to practice in Britain. He was studying for the finals of a Royal College of Physicians post-graduate qualification. He wrote hundreds of letters each week to UK hospitals and applied for thousands of posts since setting up home in Burnley, Lancashire.

But in March last year the Department of Health, apparently deciding there was not a shortage of doctors but a shortage of posts, ruled that UK postgraduates would take priority over overseas applicants. Dr Yousaf was incensed by the changes and sued the department. The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin backed the challenge.

But the High Court has ruled that the Government had acted lawfully even though it failed to consult properly over the changes. Increasingly depressed and indebted, Dr. Yousaf, meanwhile, had evidently found it too much. A fellow doctor who had invited him to stay with him in Bedford found the unemployed medic had hanged himself in a room above the friend's surgery. He left no note, but beside him was a letter from immigration officials saying there would be no further extensions on his visa.

Dr Rajendra Chaudhary, who had been receiving distraught emails from Dr Yousaf, said: "He felt let down by the Department of Health and decided that he couldn't face going back to Pakistan with such a huge debt." Dr Yousaf was thought to have owed £13,000, relatively little in the UK but a fortune in his home country.

There have reportedly been other cases.

In April the Home Office retrospectively increased the qualifying period for immigrants to be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK from four to five years. Medics finishing their short-term training contracts will find themselves unable to compete with British applicants. They may be forced to uproot their families and return home out of pocket, and face the prospect of starting post-graduate training again. Many unable to get medical work have been forced to take unskilled jobs to survive.

It can hardly help the NHS. Asian doctors have long been a familiar mainstay of working class communities. Maybe their own societies could benefit instead of subsidising Western services that way, but that's not what's going to happen. While Britain is now importing Polish plumbers etc for the middle class, and cheap labour for catering and other low-paid industries, the government's policies are both denying adequate provision of public services, and discriminating against skilled professionals, in a way that is simply destructive.

How many more tragic deaths like that of Imran Yousef would weigh on our rulers' conscience - if they had one?

See full story:

Pakistani doctor's suicide highlights plight of unemployed immigrants
By Jonathan Brown and David Langton

also previous blogs:

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