A total of 14 refugee GPs are being retrained as part of a recruitment scheme in the Sandwell and West Birmingham area.
The USE-IT! Project, which was set up two and a half years ago by Birmingham City Council and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, helps skilled overseas health practitioners, including nurses, pharmacists and GPs, to find work in the NHS.
The scheme is aimed at supporting local overseas professionals from countries including Syria and Pakistan, many of whom have refugee status and are qualified as healthcare professionals, to return to practice.
As part of the programme, participants are offered free English language classes and work experience in a relevant medical environment.
The 14 refugee GPs are all at different stages of training but it is intended that all will work in the NHS.
A spokesperson for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust said: ‘All clients are on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) learning programme with some preparing for Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB).
‘A cohort is currently being supported by the local CCG to help fund and guide the GPs back to practice.’
Referring to the region’s GP recruitment problems, the spokesperson added: ‘The demand is outstretching the supply so the project continues to build momentum. There is no limit to the number we would like to appoint.’
In all, 94 refugees with healthcare qualifications were initially identified in the Smethwick and Ladywood areas when the scheme began in 2016. It was later expanded to include residents in the Sandwell and Birmingham area and there are now 200 participants on the scheme.
Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley told Pulse: ‘There’s issues with both recruitment and retention in the NHS and while this scheme is by itself only going to scratch the surface of what’s needed, it’s good to hear it has had some success.’
He added: ‘Clearly the impact for the individuals themselves who benefited from the programme will be huge.’
Although funding has come to an end this year, the success of the USE-IT! Project has allowed Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS trust to set up the Healthcare Overseas Professionals (HOP) programme, a Health Education England funded programme for the Black Country, which provides English language training for medically qualified refugees.
The news comes as last month eligible applicants in North Wales were being turned away from GP training, despite chronic recruitment problems in the region.
Meanwhile, this summer the General Medical Council will open a new centre in Manchester to double its capacity for testing overseas doctors.
A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.