Coronavirus: Charity urges British government to let refugee doctors help fight pandemic

London hospitals are seeing ‘continuous tsunami’ of patients, health official says

CORRECTION / A sign directs patients towards an NHS 111 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pod, where people who believe they may be suffering from the virus can attend and speak to doctors, is seen outside University College Hospital in London on March 5, 2020. The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the UK rose to 90 on Thursday, with fears over the outbreak delaying the global release of the new James Bond movie and causing lack of demand for air travel that has proved the final nail in the coffin for British regional airline Flybe which went into administration on March 5. / AFP / ISABEL INFANTES

A charity has appealed to the British government to allow refugee doctors staying in the UK to be quickly or temporarily registered to help the country fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

RefuAid, which supports refugees in Britain, said it knew of 514 medics who fled conflict or persecution abroad to settle in the UK, but they were not permitted to work.

Although these people are qualified medics in their home countries, some cannot register because they have not taken a final exam, which was cancelled after the coronavirus outbreak.

The charity has written to Matt Hancock, Britain’s Health Secretary, to ask him to grant temporary licences for refugee medics to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients.

The move has the backing of some MPs.

The charity said on its Twitter page that it had sent the first list of 80 qualified refugee doctors to the government.

A government representative said: "We are hugely grateful for the vital contributions that doctors are making in the national effort to tackle coronavirus, and are considering a wide range of further measures, at pace, as part of our response."

The government has called for volunteers to help the National Health Service deal with the crisis.

Former health workers and final-year medical students have been asked to help out.

A senior hospital official said the NHS was seeing a “continuous tsunami” of critically ill patients.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospitals in the capital were struggling with demand and high sickness rates among staff.

“They talk about wave after wave after wave,"Mr Hopson told the BBC. "The words that are often used to me are continuous tsunami.

“We are now seeing 30 per cent, 40 per cent and indeed in some places 50 per cent sickness rates as staff catch the virus, or are in vulnerable groups, or have to self-isolate.

"That’s an unprecedented absence rate.

“So what we have got is a really wicked combination – trusts trying to deal with a lot more demand than they have ever had before with a lot fewer staff than they have had before.”

The first application that monitors symptoms of people in the UK suspected of having the coronavirus found that 10 per cent of its users showed symptoms.

Researchers at King’s College London launched the Covid Symptom Tracker app this week, with 650,000 people registering in its first 24 hours.

The government stopped testing in communities in the first week of March and people have had to wait.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College, designed the app after the coronavirus shutdown stopped his team’s work on genetic diseases in twins.

The app, which asks users about other underlying health conditions, is expected to help scientists discern the main risk factors for the coronavirus.

"At the moment, there is no alternative system," Prof Spector told The Telegraph. "I would have expected an NHS or Government version but there isn't one.

"This could really help NHS planning, so you could see spots where there are lots of infections rather than just waiting for bombs to fall.

"We will also be able to work out if some of the symptoms are real or not."