Tuesday, 3 February, 2009

Italian doctors tell govt: "We are not spies"

Mon Feb 2, 2009
ROME, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and several medical associations held a candle-lit rally outside Italy's senate on Monday against a draft bill that would let Italian hospitals report illegal immigrants to the police.

The law currently prohibits hospitals from notifying authorities about patients -- whatever their nationality or legal status -- except when they suspect a crime has been committed, for example if the patient has gunshot wounds.

But the anti-immigrant Northern League party, as member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, wants to change that. It has proposed an amendment that would allow medics to report "clandestini" immigrants to authorities.

Senators are due to vote on the proposal on Tuesday.

With the slogan "We are doctors and nurses, not spies", MSF has launched a petition against the measure, arguing it would deter sick illegal immigrants from seeking treatment.

Associations grouping Italian doctors, surgeons and nurses have joined the appeal.

"Due to lack of information, immigrants are already more reluctant than others to go to hospital," said Andrea Pontiroli, a spokesman for MSF in Italy.

"We think this amendment would make them even more scared and reluctant, posing a serious threat to their own health but also increasing the risk of contagion," he said.

State hospitals in Italy provide free emergency treatment to anybody seeking it, without asking for proof of identity. (Editing by Dominic Evans)

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