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Radiographers Push Back Against Controversial Age Verification Scans for Migrants

In a significant development that may impact the U.K. government’s immigration policies, radiographers are considering a refusal to perform X-rays and MRI scans on migrants to determine their age. This comes amid heightened scrutiny over the ethical and practical implications of such procedures.

At the recent Society of Radiographers' conference held in Leeds, delegates were urged to reject requests for these age-assessment tests. This move is seen as a response to concerns about the misuse of NHS resources and the potential increase in waiting times for other patients needing medical scans.

The issue gained prominence after the former Home Secretary, Dame Priti Patel, advocated for these tests to prevent adults from falsely claiming minor status in their asylum applications. According to Patel, the measure was aimed at stopping grown men from "masquerading as children." However, this has sparked a debate about the accuracy and ethical justification of using medical imaging for immigration control.

Richard Evans, chief executive of the Society of Radiographers, strongly criticised the government's policy. He highlighted the strain on NHS services, which are already buckling under long wait times for essential medical imaging like MRI scans. Evans emphasised that conducting these scans for immigration purposes is not only outside the clinical radiographers' contract but also a misallocation of valuable NHS resources.

Moreover, Evans and other critics have raised concerns about the safety and reliability of using X-rays and MRIs for age assessment. Experts have warned that such practices could pose health risks, especially to child asylum seekers, due to radiation exposure. Additionally, the accuracy of these methods is questionable; for instance, an X-ray of a child's wrist post-puberty is unlikely to yield reliable results, and the emergence of wisdom teeth varies significantly among individuals.

The legal and ethical dimensions are also troubling. Under UK law, patients must consent to X-rays, a requirement that underscores the need for any medical procedure to be fully justified. The Society of Radiographers argues that the involuntary use of radiography for age determination breaches ethical standards and could compromise the care of other NHS patients.

In response to these criticisms, a Home Office spokesperson defended the policies, stating that the age assessment processes were being strengthened through scientific assessments supported by the National Age Assessment Board and the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee. These methods, according to the spokesperson, are already in use across most of Europe and are backed by scientific evidence.

This debate reflects broader concerns about the intersection of healthcare and immigration enforcement. As radiographers stand against the use of their profession for immigration control, the controversy highlights the ongoing tensions between government policies and professional ethics in healthcare. The outcome of this dispute could have far-reaching implications for both migrants seeking asylum in the UK and the operational integrity of the NHS.

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