TistaIn this blog Tista Chakravarty-Gannon, Head of Welcome to UK Practice, explains how a piece of research identified the need for our Welcome to UK Practice workshops, and discusses the impact they have on overseas-trained doctors.  

The General Medical Council has never been short on data. More than a third of a million doctors are on the UK’s medical register, providing a wealth of facts and figures to keep statisticians satisfied.

Looked at the right way, and with expert eyes, data can tell us a lot about the profession. Deeper analysis can alert us to where we, as a regulator, could be doing things differently – and better – to the benefit of doctors and their patients.

But drawing too many conclusions from data alone is risky, as they provide only part of the picture. For example, a decade or more ago our data was telling us that doctors who qualified outside the UK were more likely to have fitness to practise concerns raised about them. It didn’t tell us why, or what we could do about it. That is where research came in.

We knew that non-UK trained doctors were more likely to face concerns about their practice, and we wanted to know what more we could do to support them and make this less likely, so we commissioned independent research, by Warwick University, to look into it in more detail.

What the research told us was that the information, training and support available to doctors who qualified outside the UK had little emphasis on ethical and professional standards.

Yet for many overseas-trained doctors it was those ethical and professional differences that they found most challenging when working in the UK compared to their home countries.

What they needed was information about ethical and cultural factors, such as the doctor-patient relationship, at the time when most of the information available to them was about immigration and registration procedures, and what posts were available.

Once a doctor had a UK post, the training and inductions they encountered varied in content, with some tending to focus just on local requirements. A doctor might be told were to park at work, and how to book annual leave, but nothing about what a patient might expect, what to do if a friend or family member asked for a consultation, or how colleagues expect to be treated in the workplace.

So, our data showed us that non-UK trained doctors were at greater risk of a fitness to practise concern, and our research revealed reasons why that was happening. Such research is pointless unless you act on it, so we set about creating something that would address the issue.

In order to design an initiative that would address the specific needs of doctors who qualified outside the UK we collected more evidence from key interest groups and engaged with them to test ideas and pilot workshops. The GMC’s Good medical practice is the framework for all doctors working in the UK, and we had to be sure our workshops covered all the aspects of it that a doctor new to the UK would need to know.

The result, after a lot of work, is Welcome to UK practice, our free workshop and has been delivered to thousands of overseas qualified doctors since its launch in 2014.

It is designed specifically to provide them with the insight and understanding they need to work in our health systems; the sort of practical guidance on ethical issues that rarely get a mention in local inductions … and that might otherwise be a lesson learned too late if it arose in a doctor’s career.

But research into an issue, and action taken as a result, is not a one-off. We need to be sure that Welcome to UK practice continues to have the desired positive effect on doctors – and by extension their patients – that was intended.

To do that we continue to commission research, and last year asked Newcastle University to evaluate the effectiveness of the workshops. The study demonstrated the value of Welcome to UK Practice, with attendees reporting a significant increase in awareness of key ethical issues. More than two-thirds also said they’d made changes to the way they worked as a result of the workshop.

But the research also highlighted a barrier that was preventing more doctors from attending.

It revealed that finding time to attend was a real challenge, especially once doctors were immersed in their UK careers. We responded by running more sessions at evenings and weekends, making it easier than ever for doctors to join.

And recently we’ve adapted again, developing a remote version of Welcome to UK practice which we run online, so doctors can continue to benefit despite the impact of COVID-19. Our online workshops also allow doctors to join from outside the UK, giving them crucial information about what a career in UK healthcare will be like.

Thousands of doctors now benefit from Welcome to UK practice each year, but none of it would have happened without the insights that our researchers provided.