Haneef case: Aus may review vetting system

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Sydney, Sep 27: Following the Australian Government's failure to level terrorism charges against Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef and the subsequent revelation that his colleague, Dr Mohammed Asif Ali, was found to have exaggerated his medical employment history, Kevin Andrews , the country's Immigration Minister, has called for a review of the vetting system for overseas trained doctors.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the opposition Labor Party have backed Andrew's call for a review, despite Prime Minister John Howard saying that the system is quite strong.

Andrews reignited the debate about medicos from other countries by saying Australians could not be confident about the current "less than thorough" employment screening procedures for overseas trained doctors.

He sent a letter to state and territory health departments and medical registration boards today asking them to review their system for checking such doctors' employment backgrounds and qualifications.

Andrews' spokeswoman today said the case of Dr Asif Ali – who was sacked last month – may never have come to light had it not been for the police investigation into his colleague at a Gold Coast Hospital, Dr Haneef.

Dr Ali had embellished his Indian work history by three months, but still had the required experience.

Howard, however, made a rare show of support for state health systems, appearing to contradict Andrews in saying the standards required in state-run public hospitals were "quite uniform and quite strong".

"We have very high standards," news.com.au. quoted Howard,as saying.

AMA president Dr Rosanna Capolingua, however, agreed the Dr Asif Ali breach showed the vetting system needed to be scrutinised and tightened.

Dr Capolingua said all three stages of the process for employing overseas trained doctors should be reviewed and potentially strengthened.

The Federal Government should make sure police checks were conducted before issuing 457 visas; workforce agencies – which include private companies and state health departments – had to make sure their preliminary screening was thorough; and the medical registration boards should be rechecking doctors' qualifications, she said.

Labor's health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said the federal opposition would support Andrews' proposal for a review.

But the Queensland Government – which employed Dr Asif Ali – today said Andrews' comments in the lead up to an election were "politically inspired" and could hurt the state's health system.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the state already had a big challenge to recruit doctors in a competitive market and any suggestions from a federal minister that "something sloppy" was happening in Australia would not help.

The state had learned some tough lessons following the scandal over Indian-trained surgeon Jayant Patel.

Dr Patel, who is wanted on charges relating to 17 deaths at Bundaberg Base Hospital while he was director of surgery, falsified his application to hide the fact he had been found guilty of gross negligence in the US.


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