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Medical support worker role helps hundreds of refugees to become NHS doctors

Hundreds more international medics and refugees, including those from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar have joined the health service and are set to become NHS doctors, thanks to the introduction of a new medical support worker role (MSW).


Speaking at NHS ConfedExpo England’s top doctor announced that the position, which can support overseas medics as they get their qualifications to practise here, had already seen more than 120 individuals start in new careers as NHS doctors, with the programme set to be expanded further.


NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis confirmed that the programme is now set to be expanded, with £19 million of additional investment allowing the recruitment of a further 500 individuals in 2022/23.


The recently introduced medical support worker role sees those with medical training from overseas who come to live and work in England being fast-tracked into the health service and supported to become registered NHS doctors, while working under supervision.

Around 470 individuals were employed as medical support workers last year in a significant boost to the workforce, with over 120 already supported into new roles as senior clinicians in the NHS.


While medical support workers are completing the necessary checks and training to work as doctors in the NHS, they are able to support teams with tasks like pre-op assessments and assisting in theatre, helping to boost capacity and deliver routine care which is a welcome addition to the workforce.


Sofiia Abdelani was previously an anaesthetist in Ukraine until she moved to England in 2018, where she worked as a medical support worker at the Royal London Hospital, giving her the opportunity to use her clinical experience while she studied. She has recently received full GMC registration and is working as a clinical fellow in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Medical support workers already have the experience and training that, once registered, means they are well placed to move to senior positions such as gynaecologists, A&E medics, or surgeons.


It is estimated that there are approximately 2000 international medics in the UK who are not GMC registered, and the Medical Support Worker role is a welcome path to support those with several years of clinical experience into a medical career in the NHS.


Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, 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.


“Colleagues taking part in the programme are supported to help grow their own skills and move into roles as senior clinicians, like gynaecologists or A&E doctors, but in the meantime they bring so much to the teams they join whether it’s supporting surgery, boosting capacity or helping to develop and train other staff”.


Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “The medical support worker scheme is an excellent and imaginative initiative.

“There must be a proper process for ensuring doctors coming from overseas have the right qualifications – and that can take some time. The MSW 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.”


Steve Duffy, Head of the Employment Programme at RefuAid, said: “For years, refugee doctors have lacked suitable employment options whilst completing their registration in the UK.


“The MSW role has eliminated this barrier by providing highly skilled doctors with a clinical route back into practice – one which sees them contribute to the NHS in a hugely meaningful way.


“The role represents excellent value for money for trusts and has a life-changing impact on doctors’ ability to support their families, integrate in their new homes, and successfully re-join their vocation”.


Individuals are identified for the programme through a number of different routes, including a BMA support network and several refugee charities like Refu-Aid.


A large cohort of doctors from Myanmar were placed in the South West region, with the majority having now secured permanent contracts in the local area.


Sofiia Abdelani, clinical fellow at Royal London hospital and former medical support worker,

said: “When I moved to England in 2018, I was looking for an opportunity to put my previous clinical skills from my time as an anaesthetist into practice and when I heard about the medical support worker role, I thought it was a perfect fit.


“There are so many aspects I like about the job, not just the valuable experience and the interesting work but the best is the people, those I work with and that I met due to the MSW programme – I love them all!”


“Getting a GMC registration to allow you to practice as a doctor can be a lengthy and expensive process but the MSW role supports you as you become familiar with NHS systems, gets you the necessary experience and helps you fund your path to becoming a fully qualified doctor here. I can’t recommend it enough”.


Su, who came here from Myanmar and is a medical support worker at Southmead Hospital 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 MSW 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.


“Now, I’ve just been offered a 1-year contract in to work as a Clinical Fellow at Southmead and I look forward to all the exciting experiences ahead of me”.


Ahlam Muthanna, a former medical support worker at the Royal London who was raised in Yemen and came to the UK in 2019, said: “I started working as a MSW in February 2021 and the role is an important stage that enabled me to understand and integrate into NHS, given the wide discrepancy of health care systems and approach to health between UK and Yemen.


“I am very happy to be appointed in an internal medicine ward in The Royal London and become a doctor again, this time adopting and applying a new approach to medicine”.

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