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Government and NHS must recognise disabled doctors as assets, not burdens, says BMA

The British Medical Association has today called for better funding and support for doctors with disabilities who need specialist equipment to do their jobs.

In a motion1 passed at the BMA’s annual conference in Brighton, Britain’s leading doctors said the current system of funding for equipment such as wheelchairs for disabled junior doctors was “confusing, inefficient and unfair” to those affected.

Currently, equipment is owned by the employer2, which means junior doctors who move between hospital trusts as part of their training must reapply for this support every time they start a new job.

The motion, proposed by the BMA’s West Midlands regional junior doctors committee, calls for junior doctors to be able to keep the equipment – which is often highly personalised to their needs – for the duration of their training.

Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, BMA junior doctors committee deputy co-chair, said: 
“Doctors who are disabled, like me, provide valuable care to patients across the health service, but we are extremely concerned that many more are being discouraged from entering the profession because they are not adequately supported during training.

“One central frustration is the burdensome and disjointed process by which trainees can access equipment that enables them to do their jobs. This can cover a wide range of resources, from wheelchairs and walking sticks to specialised stethoscopes and hearing aids.

“At present, trainees must reapply every time they begin work at a new hospital trust.

“As a junior doctor with a disability I know only too well how exhausting this is, having to go through the same laborious process every few months as I move to a new workplace. 

“Also, most of this equipment is highly personalised, built to meet the doctor’s individual needs, so it makes no practical – or financial – sense to force them to return it to their employer, who will be unlikely to be able to use it again. 

“For doctors who are disabled, it is not their disabilities holding them back in training, but this fragmented system and needless bureaucracy involved in supplying essential equipment that is making their jobs far more difficult than they need to be.

“Doctors living with a disability have much to offer the medical profession. Having frequently found themselves on the other end of the stethoscope, their own experience of being a patient can benefit their medical practice, improving the way they interact with patients and understand what they are going through.

“The BMA has been working hard to improve the way all disabled doctors are treated during their careers, having hosted its first Doctors with Disabilities member engagement event in the West Midlands earlier this year. I have also been working with the GMC3 on their review of health and disability in the profession.

“The government and NHS need to recognise disabled doctors not as burdens but as the assets they are, and improving support and resources will go some way in building a medical workforce that is more reflective of the world around us.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The full wording of the motion is as below:
    That this meeting believes the current system of funding for equipment and support for doctors with disabilities and health needs is confusing, inefficient and unfair to the doctors affected. 
    This meeting therefore:- 
    i) calls on the BMA to lobby relevant stakeholders to implement a fair and efficient system to provide funds for equipment and support for doctors with disabilities and health conditions; 
    ii) believes that health education bodies should urgently tackle this issue by mandating training providers have a rapidly accessible fund from which Access to Work Equipment can be paid; 
    iii) believes that equipment provided should be held by a doctor for the duration of their training irrespective of their employer; 
    iv) believes that specialised or personalised equipment such as a wheelchair or adapted hearing aid should be transferred with the doctor even if they move to another region or nation of the UK; 
    v) believes that funding should cover the costs of all equipment required by Access to Work.
  2. For more information visit the government’s Access to Work website.
  3. For more information visit the GMC’s website.

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