The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a resultant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is an infectious disease that was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019 [1, 2]. The initial outbreak of COVID-19 became a rapidly evolving situation, as the disease escalated from a local epidemic in Wuhan to a global pandemic in a relatively short period of time. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020 and then in March 2020 as a pandemic [3, 4]. At the end of August 2020, the number of death passed 820,000 people, out of a total of 25 million cumulative confirmed cases directly attributable to COVID-19 globally. The United Kingdom (UK) reported more than 330,000 cases and more than 40,000 deaths .
Due to the nature and speed of the pandemic, an immediate and intentional focus has been placed upon the core medical resources of each nation. The role of healthcare providers as valuable assets in both emergency and mundane situations has lead to intense scrutiny and research upon the physical and psychological aspects of their health and security . Initial research is already detailing the prevailing stress and unprecedented working conditions placed upon physicians and nursing staff, due to the highly contagious nature of the disease, its virulence, workload, uncertainty, stigma and fear of spreading the infections to their family and loved ones .
Furthermore, quantitative studies have demonstrated that frontline physicians managing patients with COVID-19 have profound risks of suffering from mental ailments and disorders such as stress, insomnia, depression and anxiety . Research shows that these issues must be addressed immediately by providing healthcare workers with physical and psychological support during and post-crisis; especially with regards to the foreign physicians operating away from their regular family support, network and familiarity these disorders have the propensity to intensify [9, 10].
Medical Migration is a complicated and multidimensional global phenomenon, which is closely entwined with medical education. Medical migrants comprise a substantial ratio of the medical staff in numerous developed countries, referred to as ‘recipient countries’ . The National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom (UK) is the centralized healthcare provider in the UK and provides training and employment for a significant number of foreign doctors. The NHS workforce consists of around 12% foreign workers, of which 6% were of European citizenry and 6% non-European. South Asians doctors are by far the largest overall percentage of foreign doctors in the service .
Specifically, a large proportion of physicians from Pakistan (around 13,000) have migrated to the UK with the ambitions of completing their post-graduation qualifications, improving their economic status and gaining employment and access to better facilities and resources . These doctors of Pakistani origin are now working as frontline workers for the NHS to counter the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. As a result of their work, some doctors have been affected due to the close proximity and direct contact with patients of COVID-19, which has resulted in increased transmission within hospitals, self-isolation of doctors with little or no support and tragically the deaths of a number of Pakistani doctors due to COVID-19 itself [14, 15]. However, despite the danger and hardship, Pakistani physicians have been able to help in combatting COVID-19 in Pakistan by collaborating with their colleagues due to sharing their experiences and providing guidance on best practices and methods in treating COVID-19 patients. Moreover, the UK’s COVID-19 peak was earlier than Pakistan and these physicians were more acquainted to give valuable suggestions to their associates in Pakistan .
Delivering health services during this pandemic poses great threats to human relations, behaviour, emotions, and mental states that cannot be solely qualified or analysed through the exclusive deployment of quantitative studies. In order to uncover and capture the rich, meaningful experience of the practitioners, the discussion requires a qualitative approach . A review of the literature revealed that there exists no qualitative research on the experiences of migrant Pakistani healthcare workers within the NHS during this COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, this qualitative study aims to explore the experiences, beliefs, feelings and challenges faced by Pakistani migrant physicians working in the UK to be able to document their lived experience and develop a post-COVID-19 response to help them recover from their shared and individual traumas.