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Building bridges for refugee doctors


Vital work in supporting refugee doctors has been highlighted by the BMA, in an effort to raise greater awareness.

As part of Refugee Week, which runs from 19 to 25 June, the BMA spoke to the volunteers and clients of London-based charity Building Bridges, which supports refugee and asylum seeking doctors arriving in the UK.

One of those now working in the NHS who benefitted from the that support is Helal Attayee.

Originally from Afghanistan, Dr Attayee qualified as a doctor in Turkey and works as a senior house officer at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

He said: ‘I was not very safe in Afghanistan. Prior to going to Turkey I was working in a NGO ... while I was working there I was being threatened by the local people that I was not supposed to work with the “infidels”.

‘When I qualified as a doctor from Turkey I was very, very happy. [However], when I went back to Afghanistan ... I was again threatened by the Taliban and the [fundamentalists].

‘I talked to my family and they said: “Helal, it’s not safe for you to stay here anymore,” so I came to the UK.’

He said: ‘When I first arrived in the UK I didn’t have any documents so I was not allowed to work. Getting the refugee documents it is a very slow and complex process.

‘I think without their [Building Bridges’]  help I would not be in this place that I’m in now ... they were like a torch for me, showing me the path in a dark night.’

Funded by NHS Health Education North Central and East London, Building Bridges, along with other programmes such as Reache in Salford, provide help and support to doctors who arrive in the UK as refugees.

Building Bridges is a partnership of three organisations: the Refugee Council, the Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit and Glowing Results, and it helps refugee doctors through the process of gaining their GMC registration, starting with English language tests through clinical exams, to working on a clinical attachment, so they can find jobs in the NHS.

The charity has assisted doctors from all over the world, many of whom have had to flee from armed conflict or who were facing persecution in their home countries.

Retired London GP Stephen Nickless is one of those who volunteers with the programme.

He said: ‘I think the work Building Bridges does is really important. We have a duty to our professional colleagues who have been displaced by war, to support them in remaking their lives and then in helping them become productive members of our community. Given the skills and experiences they’ve got and the needs of the NHS, I think it’s important we help them become functioning doctors again.’

BMA Charities also supports refugee doctors working towards their GMC registration, with potential help with exam fees, travel and relocation costs and GMC registration fees.

Find out about BMA Charities

Are you a refugee doctor who wants to work in the UK? 

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