U.K. to Scrutinize Overseas Recruiting

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The fallout of the failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow continues with focus especially on Britain's National Health Service after five of the eight suspects were discovered to be NHS doctors. Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged much more thorough checks on professional immigrants.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Britain has reduced its threat level a notch, from critical to severe. Reports in Britain suggest police are no longer looking for any other suspects in last week's attempted bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. However, the political fallout from the bombing plot continues, with the focus on Britain's National Health Service, or NHS. It's emerged that five of the suspects are NHS doctors. The other three were also in the medical profession.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports.

ROB GIFFORD: The fact that all eight of the suspects worked in the National Health Service, the sacred cow of the British welfare state, has shocked people across the country. It's put the spotlight not just on immigration, which is already a hot topic, but on professional immigration - the recruitment of doctors and engineers at the top end of the economic food chain. Yesterday, in parliament, Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged more thorough checks on professional immigrants.

Prime Minister GORDON BROWN (Britain): We'll expand the background checks that are being done where there are highly skilled migrant workers coming into this country. Where people sponsor them, we will ask them to give us their background checks. As a result of what has happened in the National Health Service, I've asked that Lord West, the new terrorism minister, to conduct an immediate review as to what arrangements we must make in relation to recruitment to the NHS because of what we know has happened over the last few days.

GIFFORD: In many ways, Britain is the new America for immigrants. Fifty years ago, just one in 25 Britons was born abroad. Today that's halved to one in 12. The U.S. is one in 10. The English Channel has become the Rio Grande. Everyone, it seems, wants to get here. And clearly it's the wealthy professionals as well as the uneducated poor. In the last three years, more than 22,000 medical doctors have arrived on British shores. And now nearly 40 percent of registered doctors in Britain were trained overseas. Garry Hindle, head of terrorism and Homeland Security at the Royal United Services Institute, says it's simply the law of supply and demand.

Mr. GARRY HINDLE (Terrorism and International Homeland Security & Resilience, Royal United Services Institute): The government is talking about more extensive checks now, but what that would actually involve is unclear. We've got a shortage of personnel in the U.K. And from, particularly from areas in the Middle East, Iraq in particular, there's an enormous exodus of professionals of all disciplines, from Iraq. And it's hard for us to put any measures in place that would prevent this.

GIFFORD: The National Health Service has been defending its procedures for vetting foreign doctors. Dr. Edwin Borman is head of the international community at the British Medical Association.

Dr. EDWIN BORMAN (British Medical Association): There are three very rigorous checks that are performed, and the order varies - but by the Home Office, firstly, to determine immigration status, by the General Medical Council to confirm fitness to practice, and by the employer that goes through rigorous checks related to clinical performance and practice and doing a criminal records check.

GIFFORD: No charges have yet been brought against any of the eight suspects, but a worrying, almost prophetic story emerged yesterday from Baghdad. The Church of England clergyman called Andrew White, who's president of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East based in Iraq, says he was at a conference in Amman, Jordan in April when he was taken aside on the fringes of the conference by a Sunni religious leader.

Mr. ANDREW WHITE (President, Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East): I sat down and listened for 40 minutes as he went on about how they were going to destroy the British and the Americans and how they were moving their campaign out of Iraq and would be doing more in situ in Britain and then America, and he finished by saying to me these words: Those who cure you will kill you.

GIFFORD: White says he didn't fully understand what the man meant, though he did report the comment to a British diplomat. The words - those who cure you will kill you - have been splashed across British newspapers. Whether those arrested over the weekend in Britain are charged and convicted or not, White says he believes there are plenty of militant doctors and professionals from Iraq and the Middle East who are heading to the West to work.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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