Last Word


The Refugee Doctor Initiative

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 17

Terry John, co-chair of the BMA & BDA Refugee Doctors and Dentists Liaison Group and chair of the union’s international committee, talks about a brilliant initiative that is proving mutually beneficial for overseas doctors and NHS patients alike.

People say that once you’re a doctor, you’re always a doctor. Unfortunately, there are people who have been forced to leave medicine because of terrible circumstances and conflicts in their home countries. These doctors in particular feel a great sense of loss and detachment. The overwhelming attitude from these doctors is that they want to work, and want to help patients. It’s why at the BMA we have helped many doctors who have had to flee their homes abroad re-establish their careers in the UK. 

Refugees currently have the right to work in the UK, but overseas doctors who wish to practice medicine in the UK must meet General Medical Council (GMC) requirements and be registered with the regulator. They face many hurdles, however – not least professional isolation and severe financial hardship. 

Access to training and employment is crucial to integration, and it can be devastating for those who had a skill in their home country to be unable to use that in their new country. 

The BMA believes that refugee doctors make a valuable contribution to the delivery of healthcare services in the UK and are a valuable potential resource at a time when the NHS needs more doctors. They want to use their skills and give something back to the country which has given them sanctuary.  

It’s why we have been involved in many initiatives, working with a broad coalition of other organisations, to help refugees pursue a career in the UK through the Refugee Doctor Initiative. 

The Refugee Doctor Initiative involves supporting suitably trained doctors to get their licence to practice in the UK. To do this, refugee doctors will need to pass an English language test and pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test. 

This is a two-part test to determine doctors’ competence and includes PLAB 1, a written test, and PLAB 2 – a practical test with different scenarios to test their competence in settings such as a mock consultation or an acute ward. 

The last thing doctors will need to do is take a clinical attachment. This is a type of work placement which familiarises doctors with the NHS and UK practice. They will observe the work in an NHS hospital for about 10-12 weeks, though the content of the attachment varies depending on the hospital. These placements are crucial because they are situational, and help people to understand the culture of the NHS. 

Once a doctor has passed all three stages they can apply for their license to practice from the GMC and then apply for jobs as a doctor in the UK. 

BMA Charities also supports refugee doctors working towards their GMC registration, with potential help with exam fees, travel and relocation costs and GMC registration fees. 

By giving people a helping hand to utilise their skills, we’re not only supporting them to make connections and friendships and to build a better life, but we will all benefit from those skills too. 

We are all too aware that the NHS is at breaking point, with work and financial pressures putting people off entering the profession. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of individuals who have spent years training to become a doctor are now deciding not to continue their careers in medicine. Allowing refugee doctors to practice in the UK helps plug these workforce gaps which is essential for safe, good-quality patient care. 

And this doesn’t just affect the doctors, but also their families – if their parents or loved ones can see they are being supported to get back into practice, it takes a load off of their minds too, which is good for everyone.



Top Image: © IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation


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