International medical graduates require better protection

COVID-19 has exposed the problems IMGs face, writes Anil Jain
Location: International
Published: Wednesday 6 May 2020

I am immensely proud to be one of the 65,000 licensed IMG (international medical graduate) doctors in the UK. We are predominantly BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and have immensely contributed to and greatly enriched the NHS since its inception.

Not only have we filled crucial shortages, we have improved the diversity of the profession. Our knowledge of different systems enables us to provide fresh perspectives on healthcare.

As the NHS workforce faces the challenge of a lifetime in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am concerned that some of the unique challenges IMG doctors were facing before this crisis, may now have been exacerbated. I want to reassure IMG doctors the BMA is fully supporting and representing this group now more than ever.   

Our lobbying work

Many who we have tragically lost to COVID-19 have been IMG and BAME doctors. While we are pleased the Government has heeded our calls to hold a review into this and that risk assessments of BAME staff will now be carried out to help protect them, we must and we will continue to press the Government to better recognise, protect and support all IMG doctors.

We have successfully lobbied the Home Office to give indefinite leave to remain to the dependants of international doctors who die while working in the NHS owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. No doctor should ever have had to worry about this. We will continue to urge that IMG doctors, and other healthcare professionals be exempt from paying the health surcharge and are given indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Amid the grief for the deaths of our colleagues, many BAME and IMG doctors are, very understandably, worried about their own safety. The BMA is working hard to raise and mitigate these safety concerns.

I am concerned about the BMA survey finding that 64 per cent of BAME doctors (many of whom are IMGs) have felt pressured to work in settings with inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment) compared with 33 per cent of  white doctors. This is not acceptable. It highlights known concerns, outlined in the GMC’s Fair to Refer report, about workplace cultures in which some doctors are treated as outsiders, lacking in support and more at risk than others. More than ever, we see how essential our work to build a more inclusive NHS culture is.

Our individual support

We must remember too, that like all people, doctors have different and intersecting identities, experiences and needs. Many doctors, like myself, also have a disability, or an underlying health condition that puts us at increased risk. Sometimes, we might be fearful of informing others about our conditions or seeking additional help we might need. No matter what role a doctor is working in, it is essential that workplace support is tailored to every doctor’s needs and that they feel confident and safe to access that support.  

Please seek support from your clinical director if you have a disability, any underlying health conditions, and co-morbidities so they can make appropriate adjustments to protect you.

I urge any doctors who are feeling pressured to work without adequate PPE, have concerns about risk assessment, or who don’t feel able to raise safety concerns, to please contact the BMA for support and advice. We have a dedicated emergency hotline for urgent advice about PPE which is now available 24/7.

It is also incredibly important that IMGs get the wellbeing and mental health support that they need. Some IMG doctors have less family support in the UK, they may feel isolated, or unsure about how to access formal support.

COVID-19 pandemic has increased these vulnerabilities for IMG doctors living alone and self-isolating. I have been immensely touched by heart-rendering experiences of IMG doctors and their families during this crisis. Many have contacted me for advice. I have directed them to BMA well-being support services. It is completely free and available to members and non-members and their families. Please don’t suffer in silence and seek this valuable support.

In this intensely challenging time, it has been a comfort for me to know that the BMA is here.

We have launched guidance to help you look after your wellbeing as well as a range of support services.

If you don’t feel safe at work, you are feeling stressed, or you need someone to talk to, please know that you are not alone. The BMA is here to support you.

Anil Jain is a consultant radiologist in Manchester, a member of member of BMA council, BMA consultants committee and equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group