Health Services (Developing Countries)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 26th January 2006.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development) 3:33 pm, 26th January 2006

I might not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches, as I promised to attend an event in Leeds. If that turns out to be the case, I apologise and assure hon. Members that I will read the speeches in Hansard.

I want to talk about the recruitment of health professionals from developing nations, which the Minister and Mark Simmonds mentioned. The code has been tightened up, but there is clearly a loophole that needs to be closed. Private agencies can still perfectly legally recruit health professionals from countries on the banned list if they do not work in the NHS in the first instance. They often work in private nursing homes and care homes instead, and frequently do not do the jobs for which they were trained. Their skills are entirely wasted, never mind not being utilised in their country of origin, where we all agree they should be. Private homes sometimes make money from the practice, which is scandalous. They charge a fee so that they can put the health professionals through the process and then, after the allotted period, people are naturalised, live here and are eligible to work in the NHS. It is clearly recruitment from banned countries by the back door, and we need to hear more about that from the Minister.

Why does the Department of Health still leave it to NHS employers to monitor the code rather than do that itself? I realise that that question is not directed at the Minister's Department, but I hope that it will be considered jointly by the two Departments. The Department of Health should monitor the code and not leave it to self-regulation, which could lead to a conflict of interest among NHS employers. As for figures in connection with the loophole, I am sure the Minister accepts that between 2004 and 2005, 3,301 health professionals joined the UK register who were from banned countries. Although the code is welcome and has made the position better, it is not working sufficiently. I hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.

There is a more complex problem, and I am not suggesting that we have a solution to it. It is creditable that the Government are investing in Malawi. It is hugely welcome work and we thoroughly support it, but what is the Department's assessment of the effect that it is having on attracting health professionals from neighbouring countries? I am not criticising the work, but Malawi is the focus of DFID funding, which is likely to suck in health professionals from neighbouring countries. The Department and the Government need to deal with that and the situation needs to be monitored. That is not simply a theory. It happened in Botswana, where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put a lot of money into services. It attracted health workers from neighbouring countries, such as Angola, where there is a crisis in the health service.We must accept that the impact of development is often more complicated than we would expect it to be. Sometimes, development work distorts local labour markets. We must be aware of that and do whatever we can to ameliorate the position.

We welcome the overall thrust of the debate. We are all happy to be involved in it. We shall support any action that the Government take to strengthen health services and will assist them in finding solutions to the problems.