TB screen 'worthless', ministers warned

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Indy Politics

Controversial proposals to screen immigrants for tuberculosis before letting them into Britain are "worthless", ministers have been warned.

The plans to test people arriving from "high risk" areas were rushed out earlier this month amid fears that the Government was losing the initiative on immigration and asylum to the Tories. But public health experts have privately told ministers that the policy is seriously flawed.

The "blacklist" of countries whose citizens would be automatically tested would not include many in the high risk category, while internal research among foreign nationals in Britain has found some of the highest rates are among those from countries with relatively low rates.

The study, commissioned by the Department for Health but not yet published, has helped convince senior health officials that pre-entry screening for TB is a waste of time.

"In public health terms this is worthless. It is being done for the [sake of] politics as far as we can see," one told The Independent on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said a pilot scheme in which 8,500 asylum seekers were tested for TB had already identified 10 cases: "It's good for the individuals concerned that these cases were detected and it's good for the public health of this country."

Tony Blair accused Michael Howard of seeking to "exploit" the issue of immigration last week after the Tories unveiled proposals to screen would-be migrants for TB and HIV/Aidsbefore they leave their own countries.