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March 6, 2019

Use-It: New Programme Shows How Refugees Could Help Tackle The NHS Staffing Crisis

The destruction caused by war in Syria has displaced millions of people from all walks of life.

Prior to the conflict, numerous Syrians held highly skilled jobs that required years of education and training.

Unfortunately, their refugee status means they are often unable to secure work in a similar field after arriving in a new country.

One initiative in the West Midlands, however, is looking to change that.

The Use-It programme, organised by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, is helping unemployed, medically trained refugees and migrants in Sandwell and west Birmingham find work in the NHS.

Established by Lawrence Kelly in 2017, Use-It offers participants free English classes as well as work experience in a clinical environment. Since it launched, the programme has recruited almost 200 migrants from Syria and elsewhere.

“This far exceeds our initial target of 60 when we set up the programme,” Kelly told the Guardian.

“The feedback from those we are helping has been amazing. People who chose medicine as a career did so because they want to help people. It is frustrating not to be able to practise, due to being displaced from your home country. As they rebuild their lives here, it is good to be able to offer them the tools to improve their English and get back to work.”

While the programme is helping medical professionals get back into relevant work, it is also offering a potential solution to the NHS staffing crisis. Recent figures show that there are more than 100,000 vacancies for doctors and nurses, and that number could rise in the wake of Brexit. Qualified refugees could play a role in closing this employment gap.

One person currently benefiting from Use-It is Horani Othman. Othman fled Syria with his Kurdish family in 2012, ultimately settling in Birmingham. After being granted indefinite leave to remain last year, he was eager to get back to his career as a trained pharmacist.

Thanks to the programme, Othman is now working at the pharmacy in Sandwell hospital as an assistant. “I work in the store, assisting with the booking, ordering and checking supplies,” he explained. “And on the wards, observing the clinical pharmacist at work reviewing patients’ medication. The practice is different from Syria and I learn more about the patients here.”

The goal of Use-It is to support the participants’ registration with their appropropriate professional medical body. Yet before they can do that, they must overcome some tricky obstacles, including an advanced language test—no mean feat when dealing with complex medical terminology.

However, it is certainly in reach for Othman. Nikhat Iftikhar, a genitourinary physician who fled Karachi, Pakistan, in 2013, has already passed the linguistics test, and is currently shadowing sexual health doctors.

“The placement helps to familiarise me with the system here. And I’ll see the protocols of consulting with patients,” she said.

Once the placement is complete, Use-It will arrange for Iftikhar to return to GP practice on a two year foundation, with all of her future studies and registration fees paid for.

Senior NHS managers now plan to roll-out the scheme beyond Sandwell and West Birmingham to other parts of the Black Country. They hope the programme will result in permanent NHS jobs for the many unemployed, medically qualified migrants who call the UK home.

“Finding skilled clinicians in our communities from around the world and helping them to polish and share their expertise is a programme we are committed to for the long term,” Toby Lewis, chief executive of Sandwell, said.

“The investment is dwarfed by the return, with talented people joining GP, mental health and hospital services locally.”

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