Indian doctors stranded but not forgotten in UKs Covid-19 crisis

Indian doctors stranded but not forgotten in UKs Covid-19 crisis

In March, when India went into lockdown and grounded all international flights to combat the spread of Covid-19, there was a group of young Indian doctors in the UK for a crucial qualification examination who were among the thousands left stranded.

Around 23 doctors from different parts of India were in Manchester to appear for the second part of a two-part Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board?(PLAB) test hosted by the UK's General Medical Council (GMC). The first part of the international standards test can be cleared in the doctors' home countries, with the second part conducted in a mock medical environment setting in Manchester.

Support network

Understandably, these young medics came to the UK with very short-term plans in place when they found themselves quite lost in a virtually alien country with no support network.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) stepped in after Dr Raka Maitra, a psychiatrist, brought their predicament to light.

“They were feeling lost because they had arrived here with no plans of long-term stay. This threw up a whole range of complexities, which we set about addressing one by one,” she recalls.

From the very basic requirements of access to funds without any bank accounts or financial systems in place in the UK to affordable accommodation, Dr Maitra oversaw a range of solutions alongside BAPIO.

Home away from home

“I think what they needed more than anything at the time was a sense of community. So, we started by connecting them to each other and then holding regular Zoom calls so they can feel a sense community,” explains Dr Maitra.
The North West branch of BAPIO got geared up, with National Chair Dr J.S. Bamrah stepping in with organising various aspects - even access to Indian groceries and food so the professionals don't miss the taste of home. The Dean of Salford University generously offered rooms to the students who required subsidised accommodation and it was over the Easter weekend in April that these young doctors could start feeling a sense of home away from home.
“They never let us feel we were alone and welcomed us as part of the NHS family with such generosity. There were times when we felt low and missed our homes and family, but they made sure are spirits were lifted,” said one young female doctor from Kolkata.

Finding a rhythm

The doctors, mostly from India but also other South Asian countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, soon found a rhythm and started making the most of some training sessions organised by BAPIO through Zoom calls to keep their studies on track. However, as most of them are in the UK on temporary visas and are yet to complete their international qualification, they were unable to undertake any formal medical roles.
“We were all working in India and this is what we have trained to do. So, it is a bit disheartening not to be able to help out in such a crisis,” said a doctor from New Delhi, who is trained in emergency care.
The GMC is looking into prioritising this group of doctors who missed the mid-March exam schedule to be accommodated in the next round as soon as possible. Meanwhile, they have a new support network in place to ensure the lockdown does not overwhelm these young aspiring doctors, who may well be on the NHS frontline soon.
by Aditi Khanna

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