International Committee

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Chair's speech at ARM 2017

ARM 2017 Motion 67 Dr Terry John

Times have never been more challenging for doctors in the NHS.  I'd like to tell you the stories of three doctors and the support the BMA has given them.

The first is a refugee junior doctor – Dr Helal Attayee. Originally from Afghanistan, he finished training there and found the situation too dangerous for him, so he moved to the UK as a refugee where he had to start all over again.

This is where we stepped in, and supported him. We helped him learn English, update his clinical skills, and take a clinical attachment so he could gain his GMC registration. He is now working as a junior doctor in the stroke department at a London hospital.

The BMA's International Committee is tremendously proud of our refugee doctors' initiative. We work with organisations such as the Refugee Council, and with BMA Charities, to support such doctors. It means dedicated doctors can get their GMC registration, practise medicine again and give something back to the NHS.

You can see our film about Dr Attayee on the BMA website.

Our second story is about another doctor – this time Lithuanian. He works three weeks of each month as an ICU specialist in a hospital in Lithuania, and one week in a hospital in the UK.

He shares skills and learns from the wide-ranging expertise of his colleagues - where 70% of the staff are from overseas. He has acquired much from the UK's multi-cultural population.

But, he tells us that he and many of his EU colleagues feel they cannot stay in the UK because of uncertainty following the Brexit vote. And some have already left because they want to provide a stable future for their families.

We rely heavily on European doctors – around 10,000 doctors working in the NHS are from the EU. In our recent survey, over 40 per cent said they were considering leaving the UK.

We think the NHS would suffer without them – and, surprisingly, Jeremy Hunt agrees.

We work closely with the BMA European Office to lobby both UK and EU politicians. We also work with our colleagues in European Medical Organisations, to ensure that EU doctors who work in the UK, and UK doctors who work in the EU, will be allowed to remain in their posts after Brexit. We cannot afford to lose such a precious resource.

Our third doctor is in his third year of training. He is originally from Malaysia and studied medicine at Warwick Medical School. He is in the UK on a worker visa.

Despite being a graduate of a UK medical school, this doctor has faced hurdles in entering specialty training - because he is on a visa. He cannot, for example, broaden his work experience by moving into a trust grade job. If he did that he would have to get a new visa and would then become subject to the resident labour market test.

The BMA supports doctors with immigration issues through our immigration advice service. This not only supports individual members but helps inform our policy work, and so gives us the ammunition to lobby government to make changes. 

There are many stories like these, covering many branches of practice, affecting many different doctors.

I also want to mention our work on the wider issues of global health and fair medical trade. I am delighted to announce that this year marks a decade since the launch of the BMA's Fair Medical Trade campaign. In the 10 years since the project was established, we have become the leading health voice in this arena.

Our work is focussed on protecting the workers who produce the instruments we use daily. Sadly those workers, some of whom are children, do not have a voice to secure safe working conditions. We have lobbied extensively to improve the law around ethical trade, and we have received international accolades for this vital effort.

All this would not have been possible without the dedicated individuals we have in the International and Immigration Department. I would like to take this opportunity to thank, firstly, Arthy Hartwell, the new Head of Department and all her team at BMA House, and secondly Paul Laffin and his outfit at the BMA European Office - for always being ahead of the game.

The BMA is here to represent all our member doctors.

But in doing so, we recognise that the support of refugee and overseas doctors is vital in delivering the quality of care we wish to offer to our patients.

So we will continue to work closely with external groups and with the Cavendish Coalition - which argues for a responsible immigration system for health and care workers.

The International Committee insists that we must have flexibility in maintaining the strength of our workforce.  We hope you will support us in the battles ahead.

Chair, I move.