Scheme that supports refugee doctors to work in NHS set to expand

An NHS programme that supports overseas and refugee doctors to become medics in the UK is to expand this year, NHS England has said.

NHS England medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis
NHS England medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis

The medical support worker role, which was introduced in 2020, enables those who have trained as doctors in other countries to be fast-tracked into the health service and then supported to become GMC-registered while working under supervision.

More than 120 people have become NHS doctors under the scheme already, and a further 350 are currently in medical support worker roles. Last week NHS England's medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said the initiative would receive an additional £19m in 2022/23 to enable the recruitment of a further 500 people.

The scheme allows participants to work in primary or secondary care.

NHS England estimates that there are around 2,000 international medics in the UK who are not registered with the GMC. It said the medical support workers programme would help boost the NHS workforce while at the same time helping these individuals to eventually take on senior clinical roles.

Those taking part in the programme are identified through various routes including through a BMA support network and via refugee charities.

Medical support worker

Sir Stephen said: 'Since its foundation in 1948, the NHS has relied on the skill and dedication of doctors, nurses and other staff from around the world and these medics – including those from places like Ukraine and Myanmar – are no different, as the health service supports those fleeing persecution to build a new life.

'The medical support worker role is an example of how the NHS is doing everything it can to tackle the significant workforce challenges it faces, rightly supporting hundreds of highly skilled and experienced medics to join the health service as quickly as possible.'

Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said the role was 'an excellent and imaginative initiative'.

She said: ‘There must be a proper process for ensuring doctors coming from overseas have the right qualifications – and that can take some time. The medical support worker scheme gives refugee doctors valuable experience of working in the NHS during that period and also utilises their expertise for the benefit of the NHS. 

‘This is a win all round as the individual studies show. We are really pleased to support the scheme and for it to continue and flourish.’

Refugee doctors

Su, who came to the UK from Myanmar and is currently a medical support worker in Bristol, said: 'Many refugee doctors have gone through huge mental and physical toll to be able to work in the UK, having to leave our loved ones amidst difficult circumstances.

'Being offered the opportunity to work as a medical support worker has allowed me to stay focused and motivated while waiting for my GMC registration. It has helped me get used to a new and completely different healthcare setting and allows me to sharpen my clinical skills and knowledge to be better prepared when starting out in the NHS. The role is really supportive and encouraging and it has made my life less stressful.'

A number of local schemes in different parts of the country have been set up in the past specifically to help train refugee doctors to work in general practice.

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