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Refugee doctors 'wasted'
sarajevo
Sarajevo hospital in exile: are their skills being used?
Refugee doctors are a valuable resource and should be integrated into the NHS, say health professionals and refugee workers.

At the beginning of Refugee Week, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Jewish Council for Race Equality (J-CORE) are calling on the government to ensure that exiled doctors' skills do not go to waste.

They say it is particularly ironic that many skilled refugees are not using their skills when there is a shortage of doctors in the NHS.

Jenny Watson of J-CORE said: "It is ironic that when the NHS is crying out for doctors there are many who are not being used.

"By helping people get back into the profession, the NHS could go part of the way towards solving the skills shortage."

Re-training

Most refugee doctors, no matter how qualified, have to begin their training all over again when they come to the UK.

They have to sit the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) exam which covers all branches of medicine, then work as a junior doctor and a senior house doctor before they can take specialist exams.

Some may have worked 10 or more years as a specialist in their own country and re-training can set them back another 10 years.

J-CORE has particular experience of the problems of refugees.

It says many Jewish doctors who fled the Nazis in the 1930s encountered similar problems.

Jenny Watson said medical institutions in the UK were often unwelcoming.

"It is only in recent years with pressure being put on the General Medical Council [doctors' regulatory body] by J-CORE doctors and the BMA that we have managed to get some changes made," she said.

Acknowledging the problem

She believes the biggest step has been an acknowledgement of the problems faced by refugee doctors, such as lack of money for retraining and lack of information about how to retrain.

The GMC has recently created a new category for overseas doctors who have been working in their own country for over five years.

They can now apply for an exemption from the PLAB exam, speeding up their route back into medicine.

Jenny Watson said ways needed to be found to keep refugee doctors in touch with their profession.

"Medicine is one of the professions where, if you lose contact for a year, you begin to lose your skills and knowledge of developments in the profession."

Individual circumstances

She said doctors were not trying to jump the queue and they realised they needed to learn the UK system.

But the system had to be more sympathetic to them, she said.

"It has to take account of their individual circumstances and recognise they may have skills," she said.

She added that many refugee doctors were very committed to their profession. Some travelled long distances across the UK to attend special meetings of refugee doctors which kept them in touch with medical developments.

This was despite the fact that many were on very low incomes, she said.

The BMA and J-CORE are holding a joint news conference on Monday to call for more government action on refugee doctors.

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