Refugee healthcare professionals could boost NHS

During the past 2 or 3 years there has been a massive acceleration in the humanitarian crisis that has forced thousands to flee their homelands. Most recently hitting the headlines have been many reports of refugees on the receiving end of brutality in Europe, tragic reports of people being lost at sea or drowning, and even some refugees and migrants turning against their hosts and committing terrible crimes, including literally mugging people who have come to distribute aid to them.

It can be difficult for the average citizen to know what to make of all this. Should we act with mercy and compassion, or fear? What will be our financial burden if we accept more refugees? And can we expect to see more criminal acts such as the refugees who set up roadblocks in Switzerland and dragged people from their cars? These crimes shock us. They are not what we expect from people who declare they are running from persecution.

The one very important thing to understand is that, for the moment at least, large scale criminal activity is restricted to a very small portion of the entire refugee population. It is unfair to label them all as bad due to the unacceptable activities of a few. Equally, however, it is important that we do not tolerate or condone any violence against our population by those seeking our protection. The law must react with an attitude that the punishment must fit the crime. We cannot afford to be seen as weak on miscreant refugees simply because they are refugees.

Another factor that we can’t afford to overlook is that many of those arriving as refugees may have valuable skills and can potentially make a great contribution to our society. There is often a tendency to focus on the economic costs of accepting refugees while ignoring the contribution they can make. Politicians are fond of these kinds of issues because people have strong feelings about them and there is a great divisiveness to be exploited for political gain.

In particular those arriving with experience and training in key professions, such as nurses, doctors, dentists, and veterinarians have the potential to help us overcome the massive shortages that are on the way to creating our own humanitarian crisis. Most importantly, the NHS is currently on its death-bed, gasping and wheezing as conservative politicians collectively kneel upon its chest and attempt to strangle the life out of it.

Of course this in no way suggests that asylum should only be granted to those who possess certain training and skills. We should never forget that the purpose of political asylum is to provide help to all those who are fleeing persecution in their homeland, without prejudice.

This is, however, a valid counterweight to the widely held and incorrect view that refugees only bring problems with them. It is also possible that they can bring solutions. Everyone wishes that terrible things did not happen, and that people could live and remain in their own country if they wish to do so. Unfortunately that is not always possible, and so I think it is constructive to move forward and look at whatever positives are available.

When the UK grants asylum to people from other nations, it is similar to an adoption. We become responsible for the well-being of the individual, and in a sense we should also wish to see them reach their full potential and be able to make a successful life. It may not be ideal, it may not be the way they had hoped for life to turn out, but it is a chance. Hopefully both our own citizens and the people we grant asylum to will see this in an appropriate way and do what is right on both sides.

As it is a fact that the NHS is not looking very healthy, an injection of new professionals into our NHS workforce will greatly assist our nation. This is why as a nation we need to be willing to recognise the skills and experience that refugees bring with them.

In the case of medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, there are already programs in place to assist appropriately qualified refugees to obtain the right to work in the UK after they have been granted asylum.

It is important to understand that the EC Rights system does not automatically extend to refugees who have been granted asylum in the UK. The way in which the authorities handle registration applications from refugees is different from the way these matters are handled for those seeking registration under EC Rights provisions.

There are some advantages for refugees seeking medical registration in the UK, which includes assistance with fees. Such assistance is also available to those who have not yet been officially granted asylum but have applied for asylum, subject to certain conditions.

All refugees seeking to work as doctors in the UK must apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) for registration. If you are originally from a country outside the European Economic Area and you have not been granted EC Rights, you will normally have to take a test to prove you have sufficient ability to speak English before you will be granted registration. This is determined by undertaking a test with the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board, so it is commonly referred to as a “PLAB test”.

According to the way things are currently written, it appears that there is no exemption for people who are from regions where English is the official language or a primary spoken language. All refugees and asylum seekers from outside the EEA will be required to undertake a PLAB test. Don’t worry, however, because if you have read this far into the article without resorting to translation, you’ll certainly be able to pass the test, and your first two attempts at part one of the test are free if you have applied for, or been granted, asylum in the UK.

Those who do already possess EC Rights do not necessarily have to take PLAB tests. They do, however, still need to satisfy the GMC that they have sufficient skills in the English language; only it is assessed less formally and at the discretion of the GMC.

Examples of proof are things like IELTS certificates, or evidence of having practised in another English-speaking country prior to applying for registration in the UK. These provisions are only available to those who already qualify for EC Rights, so if you are a refugee from outside the EEA, then it does not matter if you have an IELTS certificate or can prove that you have worked in an English-speaking country, you will still have to take the PLAB test.

Refugees and asylum seekers are also able to sit the second part of the PLAB test up to four times at half the regular price. Another assistance offered by the GMC is to allow refugees and asylum seekers to pay their registration fee in instalments.

Those wishing to work as nurses will go through a different process. Applications for registration are made to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). The registration process requires you to complete two tests, the first of which is a multiple-choice exam, and the second is a practical Observed Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). The fees for these tests are relatively expensive, and unlike the GMC, the NMC does not currently provide direct discounts to refugees. You can apply for a Response Grant with the Refugee Council for assistance up to £1000 towards the payment of the NMC fees.

Nurses are not required to take PLAB tests. They normally will need to provide evidence of English language ability such as an IELTS certificate or other suitable proof. The minimum IELTS score allowed is 7.

Other professionals will normally have to complete similar processes to be granted the right to work in their respective professions.

As you can see, it can be a lengthy and complicated process to get yourself registered, which is why there are many qualified doctors, dentists, and nurses driving taxis or working in bars. That certainly does not have to be your fate, and Hylton-Potts can help you.

Hylton-Potts are highly experienced in this area and can help with the application process and explain the processes that have worked for many hundreds of other people with registration under EC Rights and EEA, and helping people with refugee status to use their qualifications and experience effectively in the UK once registered. To find out more about the services that we offer, call Hylton-Potts Legal Consultants on 020 7381 8111 or send an email to [email protected].

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