HL Deb 25 June 2002 vol 636 cc1193-6

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many immigrants have been admitted to the United Kingdom this year under the new fast-track system for those with special skills and, of these, how many have been admitted to fill National Health Service posts.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, 338 applications for the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme have been successful up to mid-June from a total of 831 considered; 184 successful applications were from individuals already in the United Kingdom. As no work permit is required prior to entry, applicants from overseas are not admitted to the UK to fill vacancies, but rather to look for work. The scheme has also been designed to allow priority applications from general practitioners. We have had three successful priority applications as of 12th June.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Having studied the Home Office website today, I am slightly puzzled. It provides a seven-page application form for those wanting to come to this country under the fast-track procedure. It indicates that people must be coming from overseas. A similar website set up by the National Health Service and covering the international recruitment of doctors also makes clear that they must come from overseas. Furthermore, the National Health Service website states that a work permit must be obtained; whereas the Home Office website—I congratulate the Minister on the fact that it has received a Plain English Campaign award, which is good news—refers specifically to doctors. If someone wants to take up a post in this country and if a health authority needs doctors urgently, which is the quicker way to obtain entry—through the work permit system or through the new fast-track system?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, both appear to be working well. Under the work permit system, which is the traditional route, an NHS employer signals that it is looking for doctors or other skilled professionals. To date, 207 doctors have been granted work permits by that route, and many more are en train from Spain and Germany. Some 21,000 nurses have also been issued with work permits.

The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, which is very new—it has been running for only four months—is an alternative route of entry for a highly skilled medical professional such as a GP. The benefit is that applicants can come into the UK without having been offered a job by an NHS employer. They would then have a period of time to obtain employment to qualify them to continue with work permit status in the UK. Both routes are possible. The work permit route is the more traditional one, but the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme has certain advantages, as I have indicated.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, how many professionals entering the country under these schemes have come from Muslim countries? Is my noble friend aware of allegations that certain entrants of south Asian origin are being discriminated against because their standard of English is not considered to be good enough, while others from European countries whose English is even poorer have been allowed to come in? Can my noble friend clarify the position?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I do not have the figures on the proportion from the Indian Sub-continent or from Asia more generally. Clearly, for good reasons, there are processes for ensuring that people can communicate effectively with patients if they are entering NHS employment. Furthermore, before an NHS trust recruits doctors or nurses from certain areas, including Asia, the Caribbean and Africa, there is a screening process to try to ensure that we do not denude developing countries of scarce medical staff should they need them. I note the noble Baroness's further point and I shall look into it.

Lord Chan

My Lords, following on from what the Minister said, does he agree that refugees in the United Kingdom with medical qualifications should be helped to upgrade their skills in order to practise in the National Health Service?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I certainly agree that part of the NHS strategy, on which I seem to be answering questions this afternoon, is about upskilling virtually all employees in the organisation, hence the considerable investment in training going in for nurses and doctors. We are also trying to ensure that as much work as possible is delegated downwards so that those skills are used more generally. I have nothing to add apart from my general endorsement of that approach.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, will the Minister clarify part of his Answer to my noble friend? He said that the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and the fast track applied to medical staff such as doctors. Has the Minister seen the form which, my noble friend tells me, states that the 50 points that can be awarded for a professional qualification apply only for the GMC qualification—that is, for a doctor? Does that mean that the only medical staff covered by the scheme are doctors and that dentists and other health professionals are not within it?

Lord Filkin

No, my Lords. As the noble Baroness clearly said, an element of the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme gives GPs 50 automatic points if they qualify to practise as a GP in the United Kingdom, for reasons that one can understand. Other highly skilled professionals, including consultants or research professionals, could apply under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. They would not qualify for the automatic 50 points, but they might well qualify because they had a doctorate, a particular relevant international qualification or other expertise or because they were highly paid. There is some dreadful points system that awards so many points for particular skills and experience to demonstrate that a person is highly skilled. If a person has sufficient points, they get entry to the UK and can then pick up a job. Others could get in, although without the 50-point bonus.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that under the Treaty of Rome, doctors and other registered healthcare professionals, such as dentists, may get full registration in the United Kingdom with the General Medical Council and the other statutory regulatory bodies? Under that treaty it is not possible to impose a language test on those coming in from the European Union. However, it was agreed many years ago that it was perfectly proper for National Health Service employing authorities to invite such individuals to take a language test before being employed in the NHS. To what extent are the NHS employing authorities seeking that type of testing?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, from recollection, what the noble Lord has said sounds correct. If there is an error in it, I shall drop him a note qualifying it. I do not know to what extent NHS trusts are applying the language test. I could speculate that if they thought there was any doubt when they interviewed somebody, they might follow that through with some further testing. I shall ask the Department of Health and we will correspond directly on that.

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