Foreign Doctors Avoid Us Because of the Haneef Episode – Queensland Minister

by Gopalan on Sep 21 2007 7:35 PM

Dr.Mohammed Haneef is back home in India in one piece. The Australian federal government is having a hard time defending its handling of the entire case.

Now the Health Minister of Queensland - where Haneef worked before his arrest in the wake of the failed Glasgow bombing of June 30 - is blaming the federal government's handling of the Haneef case for a dramatic drop-off in overseas doctors seeking to work in Australia.

Doctor recruiting agencies say there is now a massive shortfall of applicants. One agency says it is dealing with an 80 per cent decline in applications, during what is supposed to be the peak recruiting period.

About 30 per cent of Australia's doctors are trained overseas, so any decline in international interest is cause for concern in a country with a doctor shortage.

No one really knows why there is less interest than usual. Perhaps would-be applicants have been lured by better incentives elsewhere.

But Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson is blaming the Federal Government. He says there has been a big drop in applications from overseas-trained doctors since Dr Haneef was detained on terrorism charges and stripped of his visa.

"It's not just from India, it's from places like the UK as well, which has been a traditional recruitment ground for all states, including Queensland," he said.

"As I said, since August we've seen a 20 per cent downturn in expressions of interest coming from overseas."

Robertson says there is anecdotal evidence that the downturn is because of the Haneef case.

"Certainly that's the feedback that our recruiters that are based in places like the UK are getting anecdotally," he said.

He says doctors there are apparently worried about racism in Australia.

"There is no other issue to explain why we would see such a dramatic downturn than the headlines that were splashed around the world into places like the UK, when our own Immigration Minister [Kevin Andrews] made quite irresponsible and offensive comments," he said.

The Australian Association of Medical Recruitment Agencies (AAMRA) confirms Australia has a problem with recruitment of overseas-trained doctors.

AAMRA spokesman Nick Hays also works for the recruitment agency Latitudes. He says the number of applications from overseas has plummeted in recent months, even though this time of year is usually the peak period of interest.

"Normally we receive approximately 200 registrations every week," he said.

"That figure has consistently dropped and now sits somewhere between 25 and 40 per week, which is a drop of 80 per cent."

Another agency, Recruit-A-Doc, has seen a decline in applications of at least 50 per cent.

Director Brian Symon says Australia's pulling power has been lessened by the treatment of Dr Haneef, and by the pursuit of Dr Jayant Patel, who was accused of gross incompetence and nicknamed Dr Death.

"It is a simple reality that if we wish to recruit a doctor from the Indian subcontinent that, for our company, we've found that particularly difficult," he said.

Both agencies are keen to point out there are other factors involved. But the president of the Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association, Andrew Schwartz, has no doubt perceptions of racism are to blame.

He says applications from India and the Middle East have virtually disappeared since the Australian Government revoked Dr Haneef's visa.

"Australia is seen as where racism abounds within the profession," he said.

"Basically, the feeling is that if you're not white Anglo-Saxon, speak perfect English, if you can, go somewhere else."

A spokeswoman for Andrews says the allegation that he is to blame for the fall in interest from overseas doctors is frivolous and ridiculous.

Hays says changes to the training regime in the UK have also made it harder for Australia to compete for doctors.

"On top of the 80 per cent decline, what we have also experienced is approximately a 40 per cent drop-out rate, and that is that people who have accepted positions in Australia have now notified us that they're not going to be continuing with the position," he said.

"This is mainly due to the fact that they believe that they're going to be offered a training position in the United Kingdom."

Hays says the decline will be noticed around Australia, but particularly where doctors are needed the most.

"Approximately 30 per cent of the workforce in Australia is overseas-trained," he said.

"If you leave the capital cities and you go into the country areas, those figures are as high as 50 per cent."