Health ministry guidance violates human rights: Indian doctors

February 29th, 2008 - 7:33 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Feb 29 (IANS) A guidance issued by the British health ministry is illegal because it contravenes previous rights guaranteed under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP) visa, Britain’s apex law court was told. Ranbir Singh, counsel for the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), told House of Lords judges Thursday that the HSMP visa issued by the Home Office gave its holders a “bundle of rights, privileges and liberties” in Britain and that these were now threatened by a Department of Health guidance.

Arguing before a panel of five judges headed by Lord Bingham, Singh, a well-known British human rights lawyer, said the HSMP visa gave its holders the right to be considered on merit for a job - and it was a right “just as the right to vote”.

“They are free to apply and be considered on their merit for any job,” he told the court.

The case will decide the fate of 13,500 doctors from India who are in Britain on the HSMP.

They found themselves in no man’s land after the Department of Health issued a “guidance” in 2006, saying the country’s largest health employer - the National Health Service - should hire non-European Union doctors only if no EU candidates were available.

An appeals court overturned the guidance last year, but the ministry then took the case to the House of Lords, which heard the case Thursday.

During the hearing, counsel for the department said more than once that although it was titled ‘guidance’, there would be “institutional disappointment” if it were not followed. It was an employment rather than an immigration matter.

However, Singh argued forcefully that the guidance went beyond just employment issues as it sought to change the very terms of the HSMP visa even though it did not have parliament’s approval.

He said it could not be seen as an employment issue because the guidance had been issued to the NHS Employers, which was a public body. The NHS Employers is the body responsible for hiring doctors in the state sector.

The health department guidance will affect 10,000 Indian doctors who have applied for posts in the NHS and now are awaiting the verdict of the House of Lords. In addition, there are 3,500 others whose existing NHS jobs could be opened up to reviews, said BAPIO president Ramesh Mehta.

“This is obviously an immigration matter,” Mehta told IANS at the House of Lords, where several Indian doctors had turned up to hear the case.

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