Never mind wetting ourselves over the extent of terrorism screening for section 457 medicos, we barely check that they’re doctors.

And we don’t check that they’re professionally adequate. It looks like as many as one in four of the hundreds of young overseas-trained doctors NSW Health shovels into its hospitals each year wouldn’t pass normal accreditation requirements – so they’re not tested.

In short order, Australian medical practice has gone from a union-dominated club that made it too hard for foreign-trained doctors to work here, to near open-slather as grossly deficient state health departments fall over themselves to entice anyone with a white coat to wield a stethoscope.

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And it’s not entirely surprising that the appalling NSW government is fingered as the worst offender, blamed by the SMH for blocking a national testing system for graduates of overseas medical schools. Mark Metherell reports:

About 1500 foreign medical graduates work in NSW hospitals. They have been admitted under a system that requires only a check on language skills and that their medical qualifications are from a recognised medical school, says the Australian Overseas Trained Doctors Association.

Comparable foreign doctors who are required to undergo Australian exams experience a failure rate of 20 to 25 per cent…

Recent research commissioned by the Federal Government found 65 per cent of overseas-trained doctors in NSW are “conditionally registered”, meaning they are not fully qualified.

Damningly, the story quotes the NSW health minister’s flak as saying the state wanted to ensure any national assessment scheme “does not impose unnecessary assessment requirements that may act as a disincentive to appropriately qualified doctors”.

NSW might well be the villain in preventing an assessment system, but the problem is national as we reap the reward of bi-partisan policy that restricted the training of Australian doctors because Canberra was scared we’d have too many who would subsequently exploit Medicare by over-servicing.

Instead, there is an international shortage of doctors, resulting in the more affluent countries raiding the scarce talents of developing nations. Perhaps Brendan Nelson can add “medical security” to “energy security” as his justification of helping invade and occupy Iraq.

And there are three generations of brilliant young Australians who wanted to become doctors but were denied the opportunity by Liberal and Labor policy that has severely restricted training opportunities. It’s just one more example of how our governments have consistently botched education.

Meanwhile the competent majority of foreign doctors practicing here bear the odium of Bundaberg’s infamous Dr Patel and the 20% to 25% who aren’t good enough. No group has more to gain from adequately testing foreign doctors than foreign doctors.

The SMH carries a worthy feature by Dr Tanveer Ahmed, a Bangladeshi Australian psychiatry registrar, on the particular strains and indignities faced by immigrant doctors and the history of developing world doctors in radical groups:

It is in line with professional, highly educated operators undertaking leadership roles in many Islamic extremist groups.

The most notable is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born pediatrician who rose to be Osama bin Laden’s closest aide. He is widely credited to be the major thinker behind al-Qaeda and credited with its shift from targeting apostates in the Middle East to attacking the West in its own backyard.

Many of the senior figures in Hamas are doctors, from the founder Mahmoud Zahar, who was a surgeon, to the notorious Abdel Rantisi, a pediatrician killed three years ago in a precision Israeli assassination.

An Australian parallel can be seen in the forthcoming trial of the medical student Izhar ul-Haque. He stands accused of joining a banned terrorist group dedicated to Kashmiri liberation. He said he was “fed up with Westerners” before he left on a trip to Pakistan.

Izhar ul-Haque was arrested in 2004 and will finally face trial in October.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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