Call for Irish Medical Council not to accredit RCSI-Bahrain campus

Rights group highlights abuses at RCSI-affiliated hospitals

Thu, May 30, 2013, 01:00

The Irish Medical Council should not approve the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Bahrain campus for accreditation due to abuses that have taken place in Bahraini hospitals where RCSI students receive training, an Irish human rights organisation has said.

Ceartas (Irish Lawyers for Human Rights) made the call as it published a report documenting what it said were “systematic violations” of international human rights law and medical ethics at facilities where RCSI students are trained.

The RCSI’s operation in Bahrain has been the subject of controversy since early 2011 when scores of medics, including three who had trained at the RCSI in Dublin, were rounded up as Bahraini security forces tried to snuff out pro-democracy rallies.

One Irish-trained medic, Dr Ali Al-Ekri, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence. His colleagues believe he was targeted for speaking out.

The RCSI was criticised for not taking a stand against the crackdown which, as an international investigative commission later confirmed, involved serious human rights abuses by the Bahraini authorities.

Co-director of Ceartas Gearóid Ó Cuinn noted that its report echoed concerns raised by several human rights groups over the “militarisation” of healthcare in Bahrain since the 2011 unrest.

“Our report shows how it [RCSI – Bahrain] is sending its students to be trained in militarised hospital facilities where patients, especially injured protesters, may be subjected to ill-treatment and in some cases torture,” he said.

The Ceartas report also details how Bahraini authorities have threatened action against doctors who refuse to report protesters taken to hospitals affiliated to the RCSI.

The Irish Medical Council is due to visit Bahrain later this year to assess the RCSI facility there for accreditation. It is the first time the council has visited the Gulf kingdom since the 2011 disturbances. Ceartas argues that the RCSI fails to meet standards for accreditation.

“The Irish Medical Council accredits medical educational programmes and the locations for clinic training using international standards,” Mr Ó Cuinn said. “Our report also highlights that Ireland’s human rights obligations apply to the Medical Council even when acting outside of Ireland’s territory in Bahrain. These settings patently fail to meet these standards.”

Ceartas argues that accreditation could be used by those who facilitate violations within the Bahraini healthcare system as a justification for resisting change.

“Approval from the Medical Council could not occur if these sites were located in Ireland,” Mr Ó Cuinn added. “They simply wouldn’t stand the test of Irish law.”

“Two years of pressure from the international community has failed to protect the most basic of rights of medical staff and patients. There is no evidence to suggest the council, by itself, can ensure robust reforms that meet Irish standards in the near future”

The RCSI said it was not in a position to respond until it had seen and studied the report. In March, Tom Collins, the president of its Bahrain campus, resigned over the cancellation of a conference on medical ethics.