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WHO KILLED THE DOCTOR?

28-02-2007

Dr David Nicholl on the scandalous case of a highly-skilled medic who wanted to offer his skills to the NHS …but thenfoundhimself on the wrong end of government policy.

Dr Imran Yousaf came from Lahore, Pakistan two years ago to further his medical career, and joinan estimated 16,000 doctors from overseas who try and find work in the NHS after working hard to pass the linguistic exams set by the General Medical Council.

When there are so many negative stories regarding immigration in the Press, it is worth bearing in mind that as many of 30% of hospital consultants in the NHS have been filled by those who qualified overseas.

Quite simply, foreign-trained doctors have been the glue which have held the NHS together for years.

Labour has however increased the medical student output vastly over the last decade - and a very good thing, too. The UK has had fewer doctors per head of population than any other EU nation.

However, last year, the government realised that in solving one problem, it had created a new one - there was suddenly a large number of new UK medical graduates seeking jobs which werein manycases already being carried out by the large number of foreign doctors already here.

The solution? Kick out the non-European foreign doctors with minimal warning. Never mindthatmany have been here for years and have settled families, and are often are more used to the UK system than, say, doctors from Eastern Europe who were allowed to stay.

Thus the immigration rules of the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) were changed in March 2006 essentially without warning or consultation.

But what has any of this to do with Dr Yousaf? Well, in spite of passing his exams, he had applied for hundreds of posts around the country without success. When the visa rules changed, his chances fell to nil.

Henow had little immediate prospects of repaying the £13,000 he had borrowed from family and friends in Pakistan to follow his dream.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin challenged the ruling in the High Court but earlier this month the case collapsed. The judge did accept that the Home Office had failed to take account of the implications of the Race Relations Act but said that “there had been no consistent practice of consultation such as could have created an obligation to consult…before the changes”.

Shortly before the judge gave his verdict, Dr Yousaf was found hanging in his room dead. He did not leave a suicide note, but beside him was a letter from immigration officials saying there would be no further extensions on his visa.

Clearly this was a particularly tragic case, but exemplifies what happens when policy is made on the hoof oblivious tothe effects it will have on thousands of doctors' careers and lives.

No doctor is saying that such changes in the immigration rules should not happen, but when they are introduced with such haste to cover up mistakes in medical workforce planning, the consequences can be devastating.

Donations to the appeal for the BAPIO fighting fund for the legal appeal are at www.bapioaction.moonfruit.com

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