HL Deb 13 January 2005 vol 668 cc353-5
Baroness Neuberger

asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will provide the necessary support for refugee doctors in order for them to qualify to work in the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, over the past four years we have invested over £2 million in providing support, advice and training for refugee health professionals. That has been good value for money as over 1,000 refugee doctors have benefited from the funding. We believe that at least 160 refugee doctors are now working in the NHS as a result of our support. Many more are beginning to reach the position where they can apply for jobs.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has praised our pioneering work in this area and pledged support for the work that we are doing and which the NHS will continue to do.

Baroness Neuberger

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Indeed, the Government have done extraordinarily well in supporting refugee doctors thus far. Until August 2004, the money to support refugee doctors was held centrally and now it has been spread out to the special health authorities, to the strategic health authorities and to the Workforce Development Confederation. Will the Government consider reinstating central funding to support refugee doctors because refugee doctors move around so much and local funding makes it difficult for them to reach the support that has already been given to them by the Government?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we took the advice of our Refugee Health Professional Steering Group, which believes that it has fulfilled its original purpose to increase the awareness of the skills and knowledge offered by refugees. We made the final allocation of central funding in August 2004, but it will continue to be overseen by the steering group.

It is worth giving one example: the North East London Strategic Health Authority, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, has developed a national website to provide career advice and support for refugee health professionals. That shows that there is commitment at the strategic health authority to continue with that work.

Lord Chan

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of centres have been helping refugee doctors, particularly in honing their clinical skills? That means more than just attending a course or receiving advice from a body. As that money is now being localised, will the Government, together with hospitals and GP practices, give direction, particularly on university-based courses, so that there is continued support for that very good work and to ensure that the refugee doctors find employment? The figure of 160 out of 1,000 is not very high.

Lord Warner

My Lords, it is worth bearing in mind that one of the conditions for receiving funding for particular projects from the central fund was that they had to demonstrate that they had plans for future sustainability. We are wise to the problems with central funding projects, in that one runs the risk that they may not continue. That is why we have ensured that partnerships are being put in place with pump-priming money that has been spent over the past four years.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

My Lords, four government departments—the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office—have a role to play in regard to refugee doctors. Can the Minister explain what steps are being taken to ensure the successful collaboration of those departments?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that all those government departments have to work together. We have worked very hard to ensure that our work in the health sector fits with other polices across government. There is a close working relationship with colleagues in the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education and Skills. It is a tribute to that close working relationship that the United Nations gave such a resounding vote of support to the work that we have undertaken in this area.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno

My Lords, is the Minister happy with the facilities to enable refugee doctors to learn English, and perhaps Welsh, in the different areas where major hospitals are situated?

Lord Warner

My Lords, there is a requirement on the doctors to demonstrate their mastery of English before they can practise in this country. Part of the support that we have given is to help doctors to attend language training courses and to improve their English so that they can practise medicine in this country.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the Minister has already mentioned the Home Office, so will he ask his colleagues in that department to ensure that their specialised agency providing services for asylum seekers makes the maximum possible use of refugee doctors, both while their qualifications are being recognised in this country and once they are recognised?

Lord Warner

My Lords, as I have said, there is a good close working relationship with the Home Office on this point. People want to give refugee doctors the opportunity to practise in this country when they have attained the necessary qualifications. We have to bear in mind that there are patients at the other end of the equation and we have to ensure that the doctors are suitably qualified to practise in this country.

Baroness Neuberger

My Lords, perhaps I can press the Minister further. Given that only 160 out of over 1,000 refugee doctors that we know about are at present working, does he feel that still more could be done? For those who are ready to work and who can be registered by the GMC, but who are prevented by immigration rules, could an exception be made, given that we are so short of doctors in this country?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I have said that we believe that at least 160 are now working in the NHS. There are over 1,000 doctors registered on the British Medical Association's refugee database and many of them are in the process of qualifying. As I tried to demonstrate in my reply, we hope that we shall see more of those doctors completing their qualifications and working in the National Health Service.

Back to