NHS dentistry

Discussion in 'Dental Archive' started by Joel M. Eichen, Mar 5, 2005.

  1. The dentist's tale: An asylum-seeker who wants to help
    The NHS is short of dental surgeons. This one wants to help. But Souad
    Gasmi is an asylum-seeker, and is banned from working. So instead of
    paying tax, she receives benefits. Is this policy sensible?
    By Arifa Akbar
    05 March 2005


    In Algeria, Souad and Sherif Gasmi were able to stand on their own
    feet. They earned enough for a comfortable life, spending their money
    not only on their children, but also on their parents and a wide
    circle of nieces and nephews. They had no need of handouts.

    Mrs Gasmi, now 35, studied for years to qualify as a dentist. Her
    husband ran a children's clothes shop.

    They have a different life in Scotland. It is not that they do not
    have a decent home, or that the neighbours are in any way unwelcoming
    - quite the opposite - or that their children are getting a lesser
    education than that they had hoped for.

    But, in a country crying out for qualified professionals, it is
    illegal for this well-educated couple to earn a living. They are
    asylum-seekers, and, as such, are forbidden to work. Instead, the
    British taxpayer gives the Gasmis £148 every week. They get housing
    benefit too. Until their asylum application is decided, the state will
    fund them.

    The family is grateful to Britain for granting them a haven after they
    fled Algeria, and are desperate to play their part. They would like to
    pay taxes and national insurance, and to contribute to their
    community, as they did in Algeria. Mr Gasmi, 37, said: "We are not
    here for the benefits. We want to work and to be active people.

    "I did not leave my country to come to Glasgow for £148 a week. If I
    was allowed to work, I could earn much more than that. I would rather
    say: 'Keep your money, and give me the right to work.'"

    He points to his wife, and says: "Everyone talks of the shortage of
    dentists and doctors in Scotland. We have a dentist sitting here, who
    is not allowed to work."

    The couple, who have two children, Sara, seven, and one-year-old
    Yusuf, live in a high-rise block in Churchill, a poor district on the
    outskirts of Glasgow. Yusuf was born here.

    Mr Gasmi says that the family was no longer safe in Algeria. As a
    businessman, he says he was facing threats of extortion. But he is
    reluctant to go into more detail while their application is still
    being processed.

    Scotland has the fastest falling population in Europe. The brain drain
    is acute, with the most qualified people the most likely to move away.

    To counter this, the First Minister, Jack McConnell, has announced an
    initiative designed to bring 8,000 immigrants to Scotland annually
    until 2009, with the aim of increasing the dwindling bank of skilled
    workers available in the economy. Three-quarters of Scotland's 6,000
    asylum-seekers and 4,000 refugees have qualifications.

    On Mrs Gasmi's specific skill, the British Dental Association
    estimates there is an 11 per cent shortfall of dentists in Scotland.
    NHS Scotland says it needs 215 high-street dentists to start work now.

    Yet Mrs Gasmi is not allowed to help, for since 2002, government
    policy has forbidden asylum-seekers from working. Karen Wren, author
    of a research project by the Scottish Centre for Research on Social
    Justice, found that asylum-seekers in Britain tended to be more
    skilled than the indigenous population.

    Dr Wren said: "There is a very good argument where you should
    integrate asylum-seekers into the workforce. They could help to fill
    the gap."

    Sally Daghlian, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said
    most asylum-seekers were keen to work. They were anxious not to be
    regarded as "spongers". "They do not expect to get benefits," she
    said. "They are from cultures where benefits do not exist. They find
    it hard to believe that they are not allowed to work."

    Mr Gasmi's view is typical. He says: "I hate Mondays. It's my worst
    day of the week because I have to queue up for the money. It's
    shameful for us, very embarrassing. I'm not disabled so why am I being
    given money? Why am I not allowed to work? I can understand when
    Scottish people feel upset we are claiming these benefits."

    Since the first asylum-seekers were sent to Glasgow's sink estates
    four years ago under the Home Office's dispersal programme, many have
    struggled to integrate. A Kurdish man, Firsat Dag, was murdered in an
    unprovoked attack in nearby Sighthill. His killing sparked racial
    tension in the city and, eventually, many asylum-seekers were moved
    out of the estates to calm the situation.

    But the Gasmis feel that they have been welcome in Glasgow. Mrs Gasmi
    said: "I have some Scottish friends. One is a nurse. I feel good here.
    We have a wonderful neighbour. She brought us a cup of tea on our
    first day here. You remember kindnesses like that." While Sara could
    not speak a word of English when they arrived in Britain, her parents
    are proud of how quickly she has excelled at school. Last year she won
    a trophy for her school work. Her parents are proud.

    Ms Daghlian said that the children of asylum-seekers and refugees
    tended to do well at school and were generally high-achievers. "Most
    asylum-seekers come from middle-class backgrounds. We are privileged
    to receive the cream of the other countries' professionals,
    politicians and intelligentsia."

    Although the Gasmis are fiercely ambitious for their children, they
    cannot always provide for their needs with a limited financial budget.
    Their weekly benefits, £148 - which is 70 per cent of the full
    allowance for British citizens - leaves little for anything other than
    the essentials. Mr Gasmi said: "I stay at home because I don't have
    any money. If I take my children out, they might ask me to buy them
    something and I feel bad that I always have to say no. Sara is a child
    and it hurts me to see her want something she can't have.

    "I can't explain to her why I'm not working. It is my duty to make her
    life easy. It upsets me always to be in the house, when I was going
    out and earning money before. I come from a culture where the man goes
    out and works for his family."

    The family eat simple food, shop in second-hand markets and have
    savings budgets to buy bigger items for their two-bedroom flat. Mr
    Gasmi said: "We have tried to make our home beautiful. Everything you
    see in our flat is from the local second-hand market. The living room
    rug cost £1. We spend hours looking for bargains. We saved for three
    months so we could buy a TV in the sale.

    "Every time we want to buy an item of clothing, we draw up a saving
    budget. For food, we go to Lidl even though Somerfield is closer,
    because we think it's cheaper, but it takes two buses to get there.

    "We have not yet been out to eat at a restaurant, but we have taken
    our children to McDonald's on a special occasion."

    But for all the difficulties, they are convinced they made the right
    decision to come to Britain. Their ambition is that they will one day
    be allowed to become hard-working citizens of Scotland.

    Mr Gasmi said: "I want to become more involved in the Scottish
    community. I am ready to do anything. I'll work as a cleaner, whatever
    work I can get. I like where we live. I like the Scottish people. I
    know life will be wonderful when I can work."

    STAFF SHORTFALLS

    Profession Total workers Shortfall
    Doctors 39,700 GPs 10,000
    31,300 consultants N/A
    11,300 specialists N/A
    44,900 junior doctors N/A
    Dentists 30,000 3,500
    Nurses & midwives 660,500 25,000
    Teachers 442,000 4,000
    Army 103,770 3,000

    Sources British Medical Association, British Dental Association,
    Nursing and Midwifery Council, Ministry of Defence, Department for
    Education
    5 March 2005 07:02

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    Joel M. Eichen, Mar 5, 2005
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