London, July 4: Asian doctors, especially Muslims, are likely to face greater scrutiny when applying for jobs in Britain’s National Health Service, under an immediate review of recruitment procedures ordered today by Gordon Brown.
The Prime Minister’s response follows the disclosure that the eight people being questioned by police in connection with the failed car bombs in London and Glasgow were either doctors or technical staff working for the NHS.
“As a result of what has happened in the NHS, I’ve asked Lord West, the new terrorism minister, to conduct an immediate review as to what arrangements we must make in relation to recruitment to the NHS because of what we know has happened over the last few days,” announced Brown.
As the Prime Minister made his statement in the Commons, an Indian doctor in Liverpool — the city that is figuring large in the police investigation — expressed concern at the possible consequences for non-white doctors.
Dr Sabyasachi Sarker, 62, a member of the British International Doctors’ Association and who practises at the Knotty Ash Surgery in East Prescot Road in Liverpool, said: “For any of us with an Asian or Middle Eastern appearance, there is a feeling of apprehension, of being under suspicion.”
Sarker, who came to the UK 35 years ago and moved to Liverpool in 1973, told a local paper: “As a medical professional with brown skin there is a feeling, possibly just paranoia, that people could be wondering if you are a potential terrorist. I am a Hindu and my religion is not particularly associated by the public with terrorism — but people don't know my religion by looking at me.”
Sarker said: “Firstly, I'd like to condemn the attempted bombings. Both personally and professionally, I condemn what is happening at the moment. I am extremely shocked by the events of the past few days — as shocked as everyone else.”
He added: “It has been distressing to learn that those involved are from the medical profession and that they have worked or trained in the Merseyside area. I have spoken with other members of the British International Doctors’ Association and they are similarly shocked and outraged. We have looked into whether those arrested and being questioned were members of the association and it seems they were not.”
Sarker later today told The Telegraph: “There has been no trouble before in Liverpool. I trained at Calcutta Medical College and, after six months in Wolverhampton, I moved to Liverpool.”
He said that five years ago, the Overseas Doctors’ Association changed its name to the British International Doctors’ Association. “We get on very well — we have doctors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some from the Middle East. I don't think there will be a backlash — the British are too mature for that. But we have to be prepared for difficult times ahead. We are quite shocked at what's happened,” he emphasised.
It is not only doctors who will be subject to closer checks.
Brown told the Commons today that background checks on skilled migrant workers would be expanded. His government would also expand the worldwide “watch list” of potential terrorists to help warn other countries.
He said that new agreements would be signed with countries around the world to ensure a co-ordinated response to the terrorist threat.
It does seem, though, that when Muslim doctors apply for NHS jobs in a city like Liverpool, the onus will be on them to prove they have no hidden agendas.
Among the Liverpool MPs, Louise Ellman, member for Riverside, said: “We should increase the number of checks at hospitals. It is shocking to have this so close to home.”
Jane Kennedy, MP for Wavertree and a former health minister, said: “I am very disappointed anyone from the NHS would be involved in something like this and concerned a plan was tried and affected our city.”
The Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Stephen 'Brien, MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire, said he believed the Department of Health’s Code of Practice needed to be explained by the government and possibly reassessed for security.
He said: “It is shocking that people who have taken the Hippocratic Oath could be involved.”