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NHS Employers, the organisation responsible for employment procedures in the NHS, defended its vetting practices this week after seven doctors and medical students—six in the United Kingdom and one in Australia—were held by police in connection with the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow.
One doctor, Iraqi born Bilal Abdullah, who worked as a locum doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, in Paisley, near Glasgow, was arrested at the scene of Saturday's attempt to blow up a jeep packed with gas cylinders at a Glasgow airport. Another man detained at the scene with 90% burns is thought to be a junior hospital doctor. He is in the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Later that day, the 26 year old Jordanian born doctor Mohammed Asha and a 27 year old woman, thought to be his wife, were arrested in Sandbach, Cheshire, northwest England. Dr Asha, whose family comes originally from Palestine, had worked as a junior doctor in neurosurgery at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital, in Telford.
Both doctors held have been taken to the top security Paddington Green police station, in west London, for questioning. A total of seven people have been detained in the UK in connection with the failed bombings, in addition to the man who is in hospital.
In a statement NHS Employers said that all NHS hospitals “carry out rigorous checks before they appoint any member of staff, including verification of identity, qualifications, registration, and eligibility to work in the UK.
“The nature of their work means that staff are dealing with people who are vulnerable, and we need to be confident that patients are safe.”
It added, “While doing all they can to prevent unsuitable people taking up employment in the NHS, employers also have a duty to look after the rights of their staff, and this includes not discriminating against employees in any way on the grounds of their religion or belief.”
On Tuesday it emerged that two doctors were also being questioned by police in Australia, as the investigation into the attacks rapidly spread around the world.
The Australian press identified one as 27 year old doctor Mohammed Haneef, who was detained at Brisbane airport while trying to board a plane to India. Dr Haneef had been based in Liverpool before going to work as a senior house officer at the Gold Coast Hospital, in eastern Queensland, in 2006.
A spokeswoman for the UK General Medical Council said, “We are cooperating with the police, but we haven't taken any position so far on the need to change our registration procedures.”
She said that foreign doctors who want to practise in the UK had to pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test; provide evidence of a primary medical qualification; demonstrate their medical skills to GMC examiners; prove their identity; provide good employment references; and since 2006, obtain a work permit from the Home Office.
As the BMJ went to press on Tuesday the UK's terror alert level remained at critical—the highest possible—meaning further attacks were thought to be imminent.
Commenting on the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow, Hamish Meldrum, chairman of BMA Council, said, “Like others we were shocked to hear of the recent attempted bombings. The news that members of a caring profession may be involved in these atrocities was even more appalling.
“Overseas doctors have made an invaluable contribution to the NHS over the years and it would be dreadful if the trust that exists between patients and doctors, whatever their background, was harmed by these events.
“In the light of the ongoing police investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
In a statement, the All British Pakistani Physicians Associations (ABPPA) said, “ABPPA condemns, wholeheartedly and vociferously, the cowardly terrorists trying to kill and maim our British brothers, sisters, and children, on the streets of London and Glasgow.
“We must cut them off from our society, and we urge all peaceful and law abiding citizens from all communities to be one in this hour of attack on our British way of life.”