HOP Programme helps NHS harness skills from the migrant/refugee communities


HEFMA finds out about an innovative programme at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which is helping the Trust to ease its workforce shortages by assisting skilled overseas migrant workers/refugees into work.


The HOP Programme (Healthcare Overseas Professionals) was funded by the European Union and the Trust had a target to help 60 refugees all of whom were medical professionals.* Activities focused on developing the route or journey including language courses to ensure they met the required standards for reading, writing and speaking English, as well as skills development to employment. 


Lawrence Kelly, Widening Participation Project lead at Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust (SWB), explained how the programme is a key to the organisation’s commitment to inclusive recruitment and integrated care. Initially focusing on helping refugees/migrant workers from the Smethwick and Ladywood neighbourhoods of the West Midlands, which are close to the Trust’s Sandwell General Hospital and City Hospital, the success of the project means it has now branched out to a wider area and a legacy has been firmly established. 


By the end of the first year the Trust had smashed its target of 20 per year, having already helped 100 people. To-date, the programme has helped 304 migrant/refugee healthcare professionals into work in the NHS. 


Language courses

A lack of English skills is a significant barrier for many migrants/refugees approaching work in the health service. Even apprentices for non-clinical roles in facilities management disciplines, such as catering and cleaning need to have basic language skills. To do the qualification privately is expensive. SWB NHS Trust acquired the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) programme and made provision through a local charity for the programme to be delivered by IELTS examiners.


“The programme taps into a wealth of clinical expertise in the refugee/migrant community, which had previously been ignored or inaccessible due primarily to language barriers,” says Project Lead, Nav Kiran Sharma.


Although the Trust’s focus is on clinical staff, she told HEFMA that they try not to turn anyone away. They have helped people with finance and IT skills, particularly in the early days of the programme and they also help partners and family members of their clinical cohort to search and secure jobs within the NHS. 


The HOP Programme is providing monthly Accredited Courses for every client. From January 2020, this will enable clients to access additional knowledge to support areas of their own objectives, as well as additional support necessary to enhance the development of their career pathway. This includes courses such as Customer Service Excellence in the NHS, Equality and Diversity and so on.


Sandwell College has offered training courses for every client on ILM and Medical Terminology.


Positive outcomes

The success of this programme is spreading through word of mouth – no advertising has been necessary. It has a beneficial impact within the local communities, with more people in work providing better security for families, more money to be spent with local shops and services and improved community spirit/cultural integration. It also celebrates diversity both in the community and within the NHS. 


The Trust is sharing information about this initiative with other Trusts and some of the refugees and migrants it has helped through the HOP Programme have gone on to find work with other local Trusts. 


* Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust focused on doctors and nurses, but the programme could apply for any discipline – clinical or non-clinical.

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