Medical Council was split on college approval

The Irish Medical Council’s controversial decision to give accreditation to an Irish-owned university in the Middle East at the centre of human rights concerns caused significant division within the council, documents obtained under Freedom of Information show.

Medical Council was split on college approval

Fewer than two-thirds of the council members supported the proposal to accredit the facility, owned by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), in Bahrain, according to minutes of their meetings.

The minutes also reveal the Medical Council had concerns for several years about the treatment of medics at hospitals used by the RCSI in Bahrain but decided accreditation should be based on the quality of teaching, while human rights were a matter for the Government.

Council president Freddie Wood wrote briefly to the Taoiseach and then-health minister James Reilly stating very generally its concerns. Replies from both said the contents had been noted.

The documents were obtained by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), a human rights group founded by Irish laywers which requested them early this year but did not get them until after an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

The Medical Council supplied them in recent weeks, saying they were “inadvertently omitted” before.

RCSI-MUB (Medical University of Bahrain) first sought accreditation in early 2011 but an assessment was postponed until last December after pro-democracy protests and a violent government crackdown.

It emerged that serious abuses of injured protesters and medics treating them took place at three training hospitals used by RCSI-MUB, in some cases facilitated by administrators with army and government links. Irish-trained Dr Ali Al-Ekri was arrested during surgery and remains in detention. His case has been taken up by Amnesty and other human rights groups.

Then-health minister James Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Then-health minister James Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny

GLAN this week raised the issue with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) which next spring will review Ireland’s compliance with human rights law.

Their submission argues the Medical Council, as a statutory body, is legally obliged to take human rights into consideration. Failing to do so “has the effect of condoning the acts of torture committed in the training hospitals associated with the RCSI-MUB”, they say.

GLAN founder, Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, said: “These omitted documents reveal a failure to factor serious human rights issues into the Medical Council’s approval of RCSI-Bahrain.

“Irish accreditation is not a technical process divorced from the fundamentals of medical ethics or basic rights, it is a tool for reform. Conditions ought to have been imposed by the council to ensure compliance with Irish standards.”

The Medical Council said its role “extends solely to looking at the standard of education”. Referring to last December’s 10-7 vote to accept an assessment report and the 11-6 vote in favour of accrediting RCSI Bahrain on the basis of that report, it said: “Discussion and debate is an important part of the council’s decision-making processes and it’s usual for a range of views to be expressed.”

The RCSI said: “We would never tolerate human rights violations on any RCSI campus. Our commitment in RCSI Bahrain is to providing high-quality medical and nursing education, to our more than 1,000 students, in a respectful and non-sectarian environment.”

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