The refugee doctors helping to fill NHS staff shortages

  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Nitya Rajan

Refugee doctors who arrive in the UK are helping to fill NHS staff shortages in hard to recruit areas thanks to a pioneering scheme.

The programme, which initially began with an aim to serve a "humanitarian purpose", now enables junior doctors to "fill gaps in the rota" in a cost efficient way.

Abdulsattar Al-Asadi, 44, is one of the refugee doctors being trained by the initiative after he fled civil war in Iraq in 2009.

Speaking to ITV News about his experience as a doctor in Baghdad he said: "I remember one day going to the hospital after my leave and some strange people there were on the other side.

"When they left we saw many people killed on the side so I was thinking it might be my turn."

After Abdulsattar Al-Asadi left Baghdad he tried to settle in Jordan. Credit: Handout

Arriving in the UK as a fully qualified doctor, Mr Al-Asadi told ITV News he had little idea about how to pursue his medical career given the ever-changing regulations for foreign doctors.

Keen to work, he did odd jobs including shifts at his local takeaway. He heard about Professor Jane Metcalf's scheme while taking English classes with a local charity.

Professor Jane Metcalf, who is overseeing one of the schemes in Middlesbrough, told ITV News the jobs being filled by refugee doctors aren't positions taken away from local medical undergraduates.

She said: "It's a very cost efficient way of doing it but remember these are gaps, these aren't jobs being taken away from local or UK graduates."

Professor Metcalf, Deputy Medical Director at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, has overseen the first two groups of refugee doctors that have been through the programme since 2016.

She told ITV News it is a "good opportunity" to not only help the high volume of medical refugees and asylum seekers in Middlesborough but also ease the staffing pressures on the local NHS Trust.

One of Mr Al-Asadi's patients, 78-year-old Jessica Williamson, tells him "you'll do alright, son."

She said: "It costs a lot in the UK to train someone from school up to be doctor, takes five years at college plus another two years at the very basic level of training and that costs roughly between £250,000 and £300,000 to get them to that stage.

"In our programme we've already got two doctors in work, in less than two years, one in eight months and that's costing between £6,000 and £10,000 per doctor."

She added: "We also in the north east and Cumbria have a lot of gaps in our training programmes for doctors, this seemed like a good opportunity to help people but also fill a gap that was happening in the NHS for us here."

The programme receives funding from its deanery via Health Education England.

Describing his plans for the future, Mr Al-Asadi said: "I'm just enjoying my time now, working as a junior doctor.

"I'm really enjoying it and as they say 'when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,' so I'm really enjoying it."