On the ground: support for overseas doctors

An overseas doctor, badly unsupported in his new job, had to cope with a GMC referral and dismissal. With the BMA’s help, he now has a much brighter future. Tim Tonkin reports

Location: International UK
Published: Thursday 12 November 2020
41623 doctor walking

Waleed Abdalla* decided to come and work in the UK after hearing positive things about the NHS through doctors’ online forums.

Having obtained his primary medical qualification in his home country in the Middle East, he felt that working abroad would be a good way to further develop his medical knowledge and skills.

Dr Abdalla says: ‘I was keen on diversifying my postgraduate training by going to either the UK or USA and decided on the UK.’

In his applications, Dr Abdalla made clear that he wanted to be placed in a junior role and, after receiving an offer for a job at registrar level, was told that he would be allowed to work initially at senior house officer level with a view to promotion at a later stage.

Upon starting his new job in early 2018, however, he was advised that he would in fact be working as a registrar, but that he would be supported in his new role by colleagues in his team.

‘Where I come from the system is totally different to that of the UK,’ he says.

‘[Where he trained] If I do a surgery, I will have a word with the patient afterwards and if they are happy that is it. You would send the patient home and they would be the ones to arrange physiotherapy and post-operative follow-up.’

After starting in his role, he discovered that he had missed his employer’s induction event for overseas doctors and was told by HR that he would be able to attend another, four months subsequently.

When the time came, however, the demands of Dr Abdalla’s job made attendance impossible.

‘The consultant said I could not go and that I needed to cover their clinics. When I asked why, they said that it was fine, and that the induction would be repeated in another four months.

‘At one point I was told to cover a clinic in a different city – I had not even had an induction to the IT system at that time.

‘I was depressed and anxious all the time and considered returning to my home country.’

Despite the pressures of his work, including covering on-calls as a registrar without support or supervision, Dr Abdalla continued to work hard.

After nearly six months into his post he was called to a meeting where issues were raised regarding the quality of his discharge letters, a concern that he was able to resolve by demonstrating his self-taught improvements.

In early 2019 he received confirmation that his contract with the organisation had been renewed for one year.

Just weeks later, however, he was suddenly called to a meeting in which a number of concerns about his clinical and communication skills and probity were raised.

He was further advised of concerns that the standard of care he had provided to a patient who had later died had been deficient, and that he was to be referred to the GMC, a decision that would result in an NHS-wide health professional alert notice being placed against him.

He was also notified that there had been questions raised about the standard of care he provided to a patient prior to their death, a case which was now to be referred to the coroner.

Dr Abdalla was dismissed from his role and suddenly found himself without income and facing the prospect of having to leave the UK unless he could find another job.

His dismissal and GMC referral occurred just two days after Dr Abdalla had lodged a complaint against a colleague regarding bullying.

Fortunately, he was able to contact the BMA who were able to provide him with urgent advice and representation through one of its senior employment advisers.

After liaising with Dr Abdalla’s former employer, the adviser was able to assist him in demonstrating that the concerns raised about his probity and skills were unjustified, leading to them being retracted.

The trust ultimately accepted the objections raised by the BMA, and Dr Abdalla was reinstated in his role, although was still subjected to an investigation by the trust which ultimately saw no disciplinary action being taken against him.

The association went on to support Dr Abdalla with legal representation from BMA Law during the inquest, after his NHS organisation ruled he could not be represented by their legal team or have a separate legal team funded by them, owing to a perceived conflict of interest.

The outcome of the inquest outcome found that Dr Abdalla’s actions were not related to the patient’s death.

Following his experiences, Dr Abdalla left his post and is now training to become a GP. He said that his financial losses resulting from his experience, including changing his career path, updating his visa, courses and exams cancellation and legal support, amounted to more than £22,000.

He says: ‘I am happy with the GP lifestyle, the work/life balance is much, much better. However, I am still planning to use my skills gained from my previous job and be a GP with specialist interests.’

Dr Abdalla has also worked with the BMA as part of a study into the experiences of IMGs (international medical graduates) and how the BMA can help. In particular, his case has highlighted the need for specific financial advice for IMG’s and the BMA is working with Chase de Vere to create opportunities to advise doctors about this as part of their membership services.

Having missed his overseas induction, he was also unaware of the need to have medical defence body cover, which would have been able to provide him with legal representation at the inquest and GMC as part of their membership services. The BMA is keen to address this gap and works with the GMC to provide induction to overseas medical staff due to start working in the UK. Dr Abdalla says he has found his support from the association invaluable.

‘Thanks a lot [to the BMA], for your huge efforts and advice. You did a lot of great work, I really appreciate it. It has been a very rough time but I’m very happy that I stood my ground and survived the unfair treatment with your support and help.’

* Names and some other details have been changed

BMA members seeking employment advice can contact us.