Foreign Doctor Doubts

Foreign-doctor doubts

Mark Metherell and Phillip Hudson
The Sydney Morning Herald
September 27, 2007

THE Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, says the public cannot be confident about the screening procedures for overseas-trained doctors.

Mr Andrews is expected today to call for all state and territory medical boards to review the procedures they use to vet overseas-trained doctors before registering them to practise.

The move raises doubts about the processes used to check more than 4000 foreign doctors in Australia, many of whom work under limited supervision in country areas. About 1500 overseas-trained doctors work in NSW hospitals.

In a letter drafted for state medical boards, Mr Andrews has hit out at what he says is “less than thorough employment vetting processes” that put at risk the integrity of the migration system.

His intervention follows the failure of terrorism charges against the Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef and the subsequent revelation that his colleague, Dr Mohammed Asif Ali, was found to have exaggerated his medical credentials and employment history.

“In order for Australians to have confidence in their overseas-trained doctors, they need to have full confidence that these doctors have undergone a rigorous assessment process,” Mr Andrews writes in a letter expected to go to medical boards today.

“Given this case, I do not believe that Australians can be fully confident in the assessment system that currently exists.

“I believe it would be beneficial to review the processes by which employment backgrounds and qualifications of overseas-trained doctors are assessed.”

He says the case “has highlighted to the Australian Government the risk to Australians' quality of health through inconsistent registration processes across different jurisdictions and less than thorough employment vetting processes”.

Overseas-trained doctors are granted work visas only after getting approval of their qualifications from state and territory medical boards.

Mr Andrews's call follows a decision by the Council of Australian Governments in April to implement a new national system for the registering of health professionals and accreditation of their training by July next year.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Rosanna Capolingua, said she welcomed the move by Mr Andrews, which she said reflected the uncertainties raised by the case involving Dr Ali. “I think we have to recognise it, acknowledge it and deal with it so Australia can always feel fully confident,” she said.

But Dr Capolingua said the NSW Government still appeared to be holding up a plan for a national, uniform scheme for the scrutiny of overseas-trained doctor seeking to work in Australia.

She said part of the problem was that there was potential for conflicts between medical boards responsible for registered doctors and state health departments and workforce agencies under political pressure to fill medical vacancies. “The imperative for some to get doctors is a political imperative.”