Call for refugee Doctors to be fast-tracked into the NHS- two years after RAPAR launched a similar campaign.
12th April 2020 Update
Our Campaign leader, Professor Esmail was quoted yesterday in the New York Times. Today he tells us:
"The COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the reliance of the NHS on migrant labour. Nearly 40% of doctors are from BME backgrounds (the majority qualifying abroad). They are currently bearing the brunt of the burden in terms of deaths in the workforce probably because they work in the most deprived and therefore under resourced parts of the NHS. When this emergency is over the sacrifice of these people should be acknowledged and the contribution of all BAME staff to the NHS recognised and rewarded. The NHS represents the best of Britain because it is so international and diverse."
Refugee doctors say:
"LET US WORK TO HELP CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS IN THE UK"
More refugee doctors have come forward to offer their skills to the NHS during the increasingly grim battle with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Two years ago, RAPAR joined refugee doctors to launch a campaign which called for the unrealistically high levels of English language testing to be reviewed and relaxed so that many more highly qualified doctors, nurses and other medical professionals could work in the NHS.
See ITV news item this week which features a Syrian doctor.
The group of medical professionals we have been campaigning with have signed an Open Letter sent by 37 organisations to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Nearly 1,000 individuals, groups and organisations have signed the petition.
Dr Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at Manchester University Medical School, has backed our campaign from the start. Read his article here in the medical magazine Pulse.
"It is deeply disappointing that just as the NHS faces an acute shortage of medics, hundreds of doctors, including potential GPs, are being excluded from joining the workforce because of an arbitrary change in English language proficiency standards.
At a press conference to raise this issue, I spoke to four doctors in the audience all of whom are legally entitled to live and work in the UK because they are refugees or have been given leave to remain.
They are all highly experienced having worked in Sudan, Iraq and the Congo in very difficult situations. They spoke fluent English – conversing easily with me as they explained their background. Yet none are practising as doctors in the UK because they failed the first hurdle in trying to get registration to work as doctors in the UK.
Current regulations require them to score 7.5 in the International Language Testing System (IELTS). All had previously sat the exam and scored 7, but in 2016 the GMC raised the bar for people wanting to register for the next stage of the registration process – which requires doctors seeking UK registration to sit the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Boards (PLAB) test – to 7.5.
The test does not reflect the skills required for good communication in medicine
It might seem an inconsequential change, but this has barred hundreds of doctors seeking registration in the UK. The IELTS test is graded in bands and skills are assessed in speaking, listening, reading and writing. At Band 7 the person’s standard of English is considered ‘Good’ – meaning they would handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning. To give an idea of the standard, students from non-English language speaking countries wishing to study in the UK would be required to have an IELTS score between Bands 6 and 7 by most Russell Group universities.
It is essential that everyone seeking to practice medicine in the UK has excellent communication skills – it’s a central skill in medicine and it is right that language skills are assessed and only those shown to speak English at a high standard should be allowed to register and practice medicine.
But the IELTS is designed for academic study and does not properly reflect the skills required for good communication in medicine. It’s partly in recognition of this that the GMC has recently introduced the Occupational Exam Test (OET), which more accurately reflects the level of English needed to practice medicine.
The OET was developed in Australia (where the IELTS requirement is Band 7) and many doctors believe it will be a better assessment of English required to practice medicine here. However, the exam is prohibitively expensive for doctors in this situation, costing three times as much as the IELTS – which many have already paid to sit.
Interestingly, the UK regulatory bodies for pharmacists and dentists set the level of IELTS at 7 and 6.5 respectively.
In the UK, we face a shortage of doctors in a range of specialties including general practice. We have a group of doctors, the majority of them highly experienced, who have ended up in the UK and who are desperate to contribute their skills and expertise.
Setting the standard at an arbitrary level (there is no evidence that having a score of 7.5 as opposed to 7 makes the doctor any safer or better) is not the best way of determining whether someone is able to practice medicine. This approach subordinates people to policy, denying employment to a group of people who almost certainly have the experience and talent to help us deal with an acute shortage of doctors.
We need to support this group of doctors through tests that we have set – most of them legitimate – so that we can use their skills to contribute to the NHS. We could help by offering dedicated training to learn the conversational skills required for medicine in the OET, offering loans so that they can attend the courses to help them do this. We should also avoid setting arbitrary test scores that don’t test the specific requirement for language skills for the practice of medicine.
This is a waste of talent that we need now. Amongst the many hundreds of doctors caught in this state of limbo, there are doubtless a large number of GPs who with the right help and training could help relieve the acute shortage that we are facing, rather than waiting for the promised 5,000 new GPs in five years’ time."
For more information about the campaign see here.
On 26th March 2020, RAPAR blogged:
As tonight’s call went out for the country to Clap For the NHS, health workers and MPs were clamouring for the Government to fast track the registration of refugee doctors in the UK.
Instead of using their skills to care for people who have been hospitalised because of the Covid-19 pandemic, refugee doctors and other health professionals have been forced to work as taxi drivers and in takeaways because the re-accreditation process in the UK is lengthy, expensive and onerous.
Dr Mohammad Haqmal, a refugee from Afghanistan, told The Guardian newspaper that his background in public health and specifically HIV meant he had a lot to offer in the fight against the pandemic. He works in medical research but did not go through the re-accreditation process as a doctor because of the difficulties and expense. He knows many qualified doctors who are driving taxis and working as shopkeepers when they would rather be treating patients.
Under pressure and with an increasing number of health workers falling ill themselves, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he will look at the proposal to expedite qualified doctors from overseas into the NHS.
Yet just over two years ago, when NHS cuts continued to threaten the lives of patients and the well-being of health workers, RAPAR worked with a group of medical professionals to launch a campaign calling for the registration process to be less complicated, less onerous and less expensive.
Five hundred medical professionals signed up to the campaign and hundreds more signed a petition. Despite coverage in the medical press and widespread lobbying of MPs, the call was ignored – to the frustration of the refugee doctors themselves and leading NHS medical staff.
Dr Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester’s Medical School, backed the campaign and said at the time: “When the NHS is really desperate for extra staff, it is strange that there is a failure to recognise the contribution that refugee doctors and other medical professionals from outside the UK can make.”
Dr Hiba Alzamzamy, one of the campaign founders, produced research exposing the unrealistically high level of English testing set by the General Medical Council – one of the barriers to re-accreditation. She said: “We are highly skilled people who want to help patients at a time when the NHS is in crisis.”
It has taken a pandemic for the Government to be forced to listen to that plea.
For more information about the campaign see here.