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Refugee Doctors


Q: How many refugee and asylum-seeking doctors are there in the UK?

The Refugee Doctors' Database is held and maintained by the BMA. The March 2010 figure showed it held the details of 1,297 refugee and asylum-seeking doctors. As a voluntary database it gives a useful starting point but not the complete picture.
Figures from the Refugee Doctor Programme Evaluation Network suggest a rather higher figure. RDPEN has identified nearly 900 refugee and asylum seeking doctors in the London region alone.

Q: What assistance is available to refugee doctors?

The BMA Refugee Doctor Initiative offers a free package of benefits for refugee and asylum-seeking doctors to help them as they prepare for registration. This includes receiving the 'BMJ' and 'BMA News', and getting access to the BMA library, BMA Counselling Service and some local BMA support.

An application form is available from here . For eligible refugee doctors in financial hardship, the BMA can waive membership fees for the Refugee Doctor initiative although benefits will stop after doctors gain GMC registration (at this point they will become eligible to become full, subscription-paying members of the BMA).
There are a number of local initiatives providing help preparing for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB) test, and/or help arranging clinical attachments. Providers include:

- NHS Education for Scotland (

- Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, London (

- REACHE NorthWest - Salford Royal Hospitals' Refugee and Asylum Seekers Centre for Healthcare Professionals Education (

- Wales Asylum and Refugee Doctors Group ('WARD' -

- ROSE, a partnership of NHS organisations that lists local sources of support for refugee healthcare professionals in general

A number of medical royal colleges have introduced benefits for refugee doctors falling within their remits, with the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons pioneering developments here and a number of other medical royal colleges following suit or considering doing so.

BMA Charities (020 7383 6334) provides grants to refugee doctors for Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exam fees, small grants for other PLAB-related expenses and interest-free loans for General Medical Council (GMC) registration fees through its board of trustees here.

Q: How have refugee doctors been affected by the recent changes to the immigration rules?

In April 2006, new immigration rules were introduced for postgraduate doctors and dentists. Refugee doctors were not affected by the changes because of permission to work in the UK by virtue of their accepted asylum application.

In February 2008 further immigration rule changes were implemented introducing a Points Based System under which restrictions were placed on doctors falling into certain immigration categories preventing them from applying for postgraduate training posts unless there was no UK or EEA candidate available. Refugee doctors were not affected by these changes.

Some refugee doctors have experienced difficulties during medical recruitment processes because medical staffing departments have misinterpreted Department of Health guidance about the application of the new immigration rules. Indeed, some refugee doctors were removed from the recruitment process because employers didn't understand their immigration status.

Q: Is there a forum for those working with refugee doctors?

The BMA convenes the Refugee Doctors Liaison Group, an informal communication and action group of representatives from a wide variety of organisations currently working with refugee doctors. It meets three times a year with most communication outside meetings being done by email.
The group serves as a forum in which individuals and organisations can exchange information, share experiences and work together on specific projects. It also helps to highlight issues and/or problems on which lobbying is needed. Contact:

Q: What can refugee doctors do to help secure medical employment?

1. Compile a portfolio of evidence. Under Modernising Medical Careers, the new medical training system, doctors are required to produce portfolios of evidence when applying for posts.  Further information is available from
2. Practise your interview technique. Recruitment processes vary according to different countries and it is important to familiarise yourself with the UK system.
3. Identify someone to help rewrite your CV, preferably a clinician in the UK. It is also helpful to get guidance on completing application forms and writing letters.
Q: How can potential employers help refugee doctors?

1. Become familiar with the immigration rules, specifically that refugee doctors have a right to work in the UK without requiring further permission to work.
2. Employers should place emphasis on attachments and honorary posts undertaken by the applicant where they've had responsibility rather than shadowing.
3. Employers should also understand that many refugees will not have practised medicine for some time and this should not be an insuperable barrier to employment.
4. A range of information and resources highlighting the benefits of employing refugee health professionals can be found on the NHS Employers website. Resources include a short film “Employing refugee healthcare professionals in the NHS”
Current initiatives

A strategy for London, Building Bridges , has been formulated to help ensure refugee healthcare professionals in the London region have access to comprehensive, integrated and high-quality support for returning to employment. This was originally coordinated by NHS Employers but is due to be overseen by NHS London from April 2010 onwards.

There are a number of other projects throughout the UK, providing a range of services, training courses and support. Details can be found by accessing the ROSE website

Kath Gill, BMA International Department  2013



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