There has been concerns for the welfare of British Hajji’s after the British Hajj Delegation was scrapped.
The Delegation led by Lord Adam Patel has been has been providing medical and consular support to British nationals performing the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Up until last year the UK and France were the only countries in the western world to send a delegation to the Hajj. The 2009 budget was approximately £110,000 covering such things as accommodation, flights, in-country travel and medical supplies.
But the Foreign office said the decision to not include a medical team within the delegation is not a cost cutting exercise.
Lord Patel said, “I am disappointed to see that this Government has opted not to send the Hajj delegation but instead to offer consular support from Jeddah.
“It is clear from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) own research that the benefit the British Hajj Delegation provides is far greater than the costs to the NHS if a pilgrim returns ill and other costs associated with treatments, costs in terms of sickness leave to businesses and risk to family of friends of contracting any illnesses bought back and the associated costs in treating them too.”
Over 3,000 consultations are carried out by dedicated volunteer GP’s from the UK over a 3 week period at the Hajj.
Dr Mohammed Jiva who has been on the past five delegations said, “It is a shame that in the current financial climate the government has opted for a short sighted approach of cost saving which could ultimately cost the NHS much more when pilgrims return with a new or exacerbation of pre existing illnesses.
“The doctors have taken holidays or privately funded other doctors to cover their work at their surgeries so they could undertake a role in the British Hajj Delegation in a voluntary charitable manner.
“Although the Saudi authorities provide healthcare facilities during the Hajj period we have been aware of concerns related to access to healthcare as all the pilgrims from throughout the world would rely on the Saudi facilities.
“There is no home visiting service equivalent to what the British Hajj Delegation provided for those pilgrims too ill to travel and reflecting on a major incident few years ago which resulted in mortalities as well as amputations and severe injuries.
“The Saudi facilities did not have the manpower or facilities to look after these pilgrims in the community, the delegation undertook clinic and home visits to support and change dressings whilst the pilgrims completed their Hajj. Ultimately the British Pilgrims will be losing out.”
News that the Hajj delegation will also encourage people to exploit Hajj travellers once again according to Rashid Mogradia of the Council of British Hajjis. He said, “For a number of years we have been working closely with the FCO’s British Hajj Delegation, Department of Business and the CAA to raise awareness of rogue and unscrupulous tour operators exploiting travellers and deliberately targeting the Muslim community by claiming they specialise in Hajj travel.
“They often do not have an Air Tours Operators License and are therefore breaking UK law and not providing legal protection for travellers.”
A FCO Spokesperson said, “’The FCO recognises that the Hajj is a deeply important expression of faith for many Muslims. We are committed to helping British pilgrims have a safe and trouble free pilgrimage every year. This year the team will consist of a UK consular officer and two consular staff from our Embassy in Saudi Arabia. They will provide on-the-ground consular support to British Hajjis in Mecca.
“In the 11 years from when the first delegation of British doctors attended the Hajj, we have witnessed a year on year improvement in the healthcare services provided by the Saudi authorities.
“The medical facilities are now of an extremely high standard and able to accommodate basic to serious cases and the Saudi authorities have assured us they have ample capability and resources to provide full medical facilities which British Hajjis will be able to use.
“This brings our support for British Hajjis into line with the support we provide for British nationals at other events. The FCO does not provide medical services at any other event involving large numbers of British nationals.”
Read More at Asian Image
Monday 11th October 2010