The Capital’s NHS Supports Refugees To Become Doctors With Medical Support Worker Role

The NHS in London has welcomed over one hundred international medics and refugees, including those from Ukraine, and Myanmar to become NHS doctors, thanks to the introduction of a new medical support worker (MSW) role.

More than 140 people were employed as MSWs last year in a significant boost to the workforce in the capital across the Royal London Hospital, North Middlesex University Hospital, and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

The new 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.

While MSWs 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 boost capacity and deliver routine care.

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

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.

Sofiia 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 MSW 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 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.”

MSWs 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 2,000 international medics in the UK who are not GMC registered, and the MSW role is a welcome path to support those with several years of clinical experience into a medical career in the NHS.

Dr Chris Streather, Medical Director for the NHS in London, said:

“The NHS in London has always welcomed the skill and dedication of doctors and nurses from all around the world as it’s a brilliant representation of the diversity of our capital city.

“The Medical Support Worker role is rightly supporting hundreds of highly skilled and experienced medics to join the health service as quickly as possible, and staff in this role across London have valued the support and guidance provided to help them grow and progress within the NHS.”

Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said:

“The MSW 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 uses 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.”

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

Ahlam Muthanna, a former MSW 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.”