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Immigration: Refugee Doctors

Volume 802: debated on Monday 24 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for accepting refugee doctors to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, our new immigration system will ensure that the UK has the skills it needs, including those of doctors. Our refugee resettlement schemes rightly focus on support for the most vulnerable recognised refugees, and those we resettle are supported to apply their skills in the UK.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of a BMA working group to support refugee and asylum-seeking doctors. Given the significant hurdles when people flee with no papers or proof of qualifications and are unable to meet the English language requirements or pay the exam fees they need to register, how have the Government sought co-ordination across all healthcare regulators to ensure refugee doctors and other such professionals can achieve registration and bring their experience and skills to the NHS? Given that UNHCR estimates that over 1,000 people who identify as qualified doctors are stranded in refugee camps—many having been trained, in part, in English, yet only 46 having applied last year to the GMC—can the Minister tell us how many were refused entry last year?

The noble Baroness will know, I am sure, that doctors and nurses are on the shortage occupations list. In that sense, they would not be refused entry, but I completely understand the point she makes about someone who is fleeing who does not have proof of their qualifications. The National Academic Recognition Information Centre is the designated UK agency to help doctors and healthcare professionals get their qualifications recognised by various NHS bodies. Individuals can, I know, apply for a statement of compatibility to have that recognised.

My Lords, if the Home Secretary is looking to the economically inactive to fill the gaping labour market holes that her immigration policy will create, will the Government now rethink their opposition to allowing asylum seekers the right to work after six months?

My Lords, our policy on that has not changed, but these things are constantly under review. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is right that, if someone is seeking asylum but not yet legally resident here, they should not be in a position to be able to work.

My Lords, the Minister makes great play of the fact that doctors are highly skilled; of course they are. But what about care workers? Why is the classification used by the Home Office going to deny us thousands of people coming from other countries to work in our care system? This is complete madness.

My Lords, it is fair to recognise that the problems in the care system are not fixable only through immigration. The MAC recognised in 2018 that the sector needs to invest in making jobs in social care worthwhile careers rather than be propped up with immigrant labour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred to co-operation and collaboration between the various agencies and the Government to enable refugees who are doctors to practise. Can we add the availability or non-availability of clinical attachments to that list? After all, many of these doctors are among—I hate the term, but the Government use it—the brightest and the best.

Some clinical attachments will, if people have the skills required, come under the purview of doctors, nurses and other medical staff on the shortage occupations list. If not, obviously the requisite salary will be required.

My Lords, it is important that Her Majesty’s Government give serious consideration to complementary pathways such as this for refugees to find sanctuary while they are contributing professional skills of all kinds. However, the Minister will be aware that, this year, the existing refugee resettlement schemes will be consolidated into a new global resettlement scheme, for which only one year of funding has been announced. Is the Minister yet able to confirm that funding will continue for refugee resettlement for the full term of this Parliament, to maintain refugee resettlement at current levels?

The right reverend Prelate will recognise that the ambition for this coming year is that it should exceed previous years, and he will know that under our various resettlement schemes we are on course to resettle 20,000 people from the region this year. It is difficult to make commitments beyond this year because of the spending review, frustrating though that is, but I will keep him posted on our future ambitions for resettling people.

My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservative Benches. If we get a short question, we shall hear from the Labour benches too.

My Lords, I am grateful. Will my noble friend ensure that any doctor who seeks to practise, whether a refugee doctor or otherwise, is registered to practise in their home country and has not, under any circumstances, been struck off and banned from practising there?

I will certainly confirm in writing if that is the case, because we do not want people who are ineligible to practise. We have had examples of that.

Will the noble Baroness be kind enough, after Oral Questions, to revisit the answer she gave a moment or two ago about the health service being “propped up” by immigrant labour? We rely on many immigrant doctors. Many of us have had experience of relying on those immigrant doctors in this country. It was an unfortunate term to use, considering the shortages, the waiting lists and those people—we all know someone—who have waited a very long time. She should reconsider her answer.

Noble Lords will know that, in using that word, I did not mean it to be in any way derogatory; nor is it a derogatory term.