The Savvy IMG

The COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and IMGs

The novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, has rapidly taken over our lives in the UK over the last few weeks. It has not only affected those living here, but also those IMGs overseas who want to pursue their medical careers in the UK. In this article, we would like to highlight some of the major issues affecting IMGs, and offer some suggestions about what we can all do whether you are an IMG overseas or an IMG in the UK.

Table of Contents

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Updated: July 4, 2020

How the novel Coronavirus has affected IMGs

Exam cancellations

Whether it’s PLAB 1 overseas, PLAB 2 in the UK, or a Royal College examination, many of you have been affected by exam cancellations.

The GMC is working hard get things back on track. PLAB 2 will be starting again on 13 August 2020, and they’re planning to add another PLAB 1 date in October.

Keep up with the PLAB updates here:

We know this is devastating to hundreds, if not thousands, of IMGs who have been preparing for months or who have carefully drawn up their career timelines. Sadly, nothing can be done about this and we all have to come together and focus on the bigger problem which is fighting this pandemic.

Expiry of IELTS/OET/PLAB 1

This is a concern for many IMGs. PLAB 1, IELTS and OET are all only valid for 2 years which means that exam cancellations can result in IMGs having to repeat exams which incurs additional anxiety and costs. 

The GMC have now said that they will consider extending the validity of IELTS and OET. If you need your exam validity extended, you can contact the GMC direfctly at plab@gmc-uk.org.

PLAB 1 validity is being automatically extended to give IMGs more time to book PLAB 2. This applies if you passed PLAB 1 from March 15, 2018 or after.

You can read about these announcements here:

Career delays

The cancellation of exams and the possibility of having to repeat exams will result in unavoidable delays for IMGs aiming to work in the UK. Applications for certain jobs such as Standalone FY2, WAST, and all training jobs, are only open once or twice a year.

Missing these application periods by even a few weeks will mean that IMGs have to wait a whole year to apply for these jobs. Again, many of us will have to accept these delays in order to focus on the bigger issues we’re facing.

Applications to non-training jobs, on the other hand, are open all-year-round, but due to the novel Coronavirus, we’ve heard from many IMGs that there are delays with job applications and concerns that hospitals are no longer actively recruiting. We don’t know the official status of this but we will keep our eyes open to any formal updates.

Stranded in the UK

Some IMGs in the UK are unable to leave due to their home country being in lockdown, or because they are self-isolating. If this is the case, and your visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, your visa will be extended to 31 July 2020.

You must contact the Home Office to update your visa records.

You can do through this form:

You can also contact them using these details:

  • CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk
  • Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) – this number is free to call

You can read more about this here on the official government website.

Free automatic extension of Tier 2 visas for NHS workers

Doctors, nurses and paramedics with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 will have them automatically extended for one year free of charge. The extension will also apply to their family members and will be automatic. There will be no fee attached and it will be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).

You can read more details about this here.

Visa centres are starting to reopen

From 1 June 2020, visa centres in the UK will start to reopen. You can read about which centres are open here on the official UKVCAS website:

Changes to national specialty recruitment

As all hands are needed on deck to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, all interviews after March 17, 2020 were cancelled. This meant that some specialties were mid-way through the interview process, while others had not even started.

However, applications to specialty recruitment 2020 are still pushing through with new rules. Most specialties will now base the applicant score on either the SJT part of the MSRA, or the self-assessed non-validated portfolio score.

You can read more about these changes in the official HEE letter here, and on their website below:

What IMGs overseas can do during this COVID-19 pandemic

So what’s an IMG to do in these unprecedented times? Here are our suggestions for those who are still overseas.

Consider going back to work

If you are on a career break preparing for exams, and are fit and able to work, I would strongly encourage you to think about going back to work in your home country to help battle this pandemic. 

As health care professionals, we are the soldiers in this fight, and it is now more than ever that patients need us.

But do NOT practise presenteeism

It is extremely common for healthcare professionals to go into work even when they are sick. 

This is not the time for that. 

We know that the novel Coronavirus is highly contagious and can be fatal to our patients and colleagues. If you or someone in your household is exhibiting symptoms, or have had high risk exposure to patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection, please strictly follow your government and hospital guidelines about self-isolation.

We are here to serve and protect our patients, not infect them and put them at higher risk. Let’s all do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Remain flexible and plan ahead

Unfortunately, we all have to accept that there will be inevitable delays to our careers. This pandemic is real and needs to be dealt with first before we can expect life to return to normal. 

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you are going to adjust your timeline. Take note of future exam dates and job application periods. Also, be prepared to keep pushing your timeline back depending on how long this pandemic lasts. 

You should also use this time to get as much of your paperwork in order as possible. There are likely to be delays in processing so it’s best to get things started now. For example, you can apply for EPIC verification of your medical degree if you haven’t done it already.

Related: 8 ways the UK has made it easier for IMGs in the past 2 years

What IMGs working in the UK can do during this COVID-19 pandemic

Keep up to date with government and hospital recommendations

Make sure you know where to look for official guidance, and please do not contribute to the spreading of misinformation and fake news on social media.

Official recommendations can be found here:

Your own hospital should be sending regular email updates so be sure to read them. Also check your hospital Intranet guidelines about PPE and management of patients with COVID-19.

Be prepared for redeployment

Non-routine appointments and non-cancer non-emergency surgeries have all been cancelled in most, if not all, UK hospitals. This frees up many doctors from all specialties such as Ophthalmology, Radiology, Psychiatry etc, to be sent to the medical wards. 

If you have not worked in an acute role for many years, better go find that dusty stethoscope and make time to attend all training sessions offered at your hospital. Help out in any way you can, but always work within your level of competence and with appropriate supervision. 

If you’re unsure about something, ask. This is not the time to be ashamed of seeking help from a technically junior colleague who is actually more experienced than you are in acute medicine.

Familiarise yourself with the legal and ethical guidance

These are unprecedented times and we will be put in situations we’ve never had to deal with before such as remote consultations, working outside of our specialties, and deciding how much personal risk to take when treating patients in the context of potentially inadequate PPE.

It’s hard to know how to handle these difficult situations but some legal and ethical guidelines have been published to help aid our professional judgment.

Here are some links to the ones you should be familiar with:

Again, do NOT practice presenteeism

If you have a new continuous cough or fever, please do NOT go to work. The government  guidance as of March 22nd states that you must self-isolate for 7 days, and everyone in your household should self-isolate for 14 days. 

This may change so please be sure to keep up-to-date with the current guidance as we will not be updating this article on a daily basis. You can check the updated UK government guidance here:

Strengthen your social support

If you moved to the UK alone, this will be a difficult time. I’m sure you will be thinking about your family back home and will want to be with them during this crisis. 

We are fortunate in this day and age to have the means to keep in touch with our loved ones overseas. Gone are the days of writing letters and expensive international phone calls. Make time to speak with your friends and family overseas on a regular basis, and don’t forget you have friends and colleagues in the UK as well! Have lunch with your colleagues at work, talk about the virus, talk about anything but the virus, engage in the online doctor and IMG communities on FB – remember, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation! 

And don’t forget to do activities that you enjoy or help you relax. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health!

Reassurances for IMGs working in the NHS

Many IMGs expressed concern about what would happen to their families if they were to die from COVID-19. This is a valid concern and the UK government has announced some important reassurances for the families of NHS staff including IMGs.

  • Bereaved family members will receive a tax-free lump sum of £60,000 to assist them financially in the difficult period following the death of a loved one. (Source)
  • Family members and dependants of healthcare workers who die from COVID-19 will be offered immediate indefinite leave to remain AKA permanent UK residence. (Source – bottom of the article)

We’d just like to take this opportunity to say that it should not take a pandemic for IMGs to make arrangements for their families in the event of their death. If you’re an IMG with dependants, please seriously consider taking out a life assurance policy and think about who you would appoint as a guardian for your child/children if you are a single parent.

Plans to scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS IMGs

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has expressed his support for the removal of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for IMGs working in the NHS. The fee is currently £400 per year for those on a Tier 2 visa and due to increase to £625 per year from this October 2020 and must be paid upfront with no option to pay it over time.

The Home Office has not confirmed this yet but you can read the news piece about it here:

Ongoing petitions to support IMGs & NHS staff

There are several petitions online that aim to bring about favourable changes for IMGs who either want to help out in the COVID-19 pandemic, or are already working in the NHS.

You may wish to lend your support by adding your signature to the cause and sharing with friends and family.

Here is a list of the ongoing petitions:

What The Savvy IMG is doing in this crisis

We may just be 2 IMGs in a sea of thousands, but we are blessed to have this platform to listen to your concerns and bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities. We will do our best to highlight the issues you are all facing and hope that swift action will be taken to address them.

Conclusion

This is arguably the biggest challenge of our times. All our lives have been drastically changed because of this virus, and it will continue to affect us for many months. Just remember that you are not alone in this. The novel Coronavirus is affecting lives across the globe so we are all in this together. 

For many of us, it is a heavy inconvenience, but for others, it will cost them their lives. Let’s keep a level-headed perspective and remain compassionate. This pandemic will come to an end, and we will all be judged by how we responded in these unprecedented times.

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Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.

free

Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.

free

3 Responses

  1. Hello! I’ve got full GMC registration and I’m living in the UK, what can I do to help? I am not working as of yet.

  2. Hi guys,
    Great job as usual…
    Do you know if there has been changes due to Covid situation regarding the Teir 2 Visa requirement for police clearance from all countries you worked in during the last 10 years prior to first UK job?

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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
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