HOPE for disabled doctors

Help in Obtaining Professional Equality

Sources of Support and Advice

Where to start? Illness and disability impact on so many different aspects of life. Two doctors with the same illness or disability may have wildly diverse needs. The needs of a new lower limb amputee may be considerably different to those of a person who has been a lifelong wheelchair user. Needs also vary with time, and are dependent, amongst others, on an individual’s stage of life; personal support network; stage of training or employment and financial circumstances. Try not to make assumptions, and don’t allow others to transfer their own assumptions and preconceptions to your situation. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, concerns, frustrations…… and be prepared to continually re-evaluate with your changing circumstances.

This may all seem very daunting and isolating. Attempting to address all areas of difficulty at once is a bewildering prospect, both physically and emotionally.

It would be an impossible task for us to provide an exhaustive list to cover every potential individual circumstance, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Whether as a result of an acute accidental injury or lifelong degenerative condition, the realisation that an illness, impairment or disability has implications for life in medical practice is almost inevitably unwelcome.

There is no right or wrong way to react to a diagnosis. So, anger, frustration and feeling confused are normal responses. However, sooner or later, there is the need to start reinstating perspective. It is possible to do this by one’s self, but why re-invent the wheel? Here’s some quick steps for starters. For additional information, have a look at our specific pages.


It’s difficult to tread the line between Doctor and Patient - difficult for yourself and difficult for the team that are treating you. Well rehearsed questions often disappear upon sitting in the patient’s chair. So, our advice is:

Your Relationships

Don’t be surprised if your relationships are tested. Partners, friends, work-colleagues…… everyone else is also trying to construct their own interpretation of the impact of your illness / disability.

Helplines, Charitable Organisations & Self-help Groups

Help lines may be of use for a number of reasons:

Don’t forget the tried-and-tested national sources of support. For information gathering purposes, consider both medicine-specific and disease/impairment-specific organisations. Different organisations can help answer different types of questions, and can have widely differing perspectives and approaches to tackling challenges.

Self-help organisations offer the chance for you to communicate with other individuals in a similar position to yourself. Again, some are doctor related; some are orientated towards specific diseases / conditions; some are even specific enough to be medic and disease/impairment related.

Charitable organisations can be foreboding. As always, some are more approachable and more helpful than others. Don’t forget locally based organisations – there is often a more personal manner, tailored more specifically to your individual circumstances, and you may well find a more enthusiastic willingness to help.

If you’re finding information hard to find, consider also trying:

If at first you don’t get the answers you are looking for, keep trying. Tempting though it is to become disheartened, try not to. Someone, somewhere can help – it’s just finding that right person.

Useful Organisations
Organisation Contact Details
Alcoholics Anonymous Tel: 08457 697 555
Association of Disabled Professionals Web: www.adp.org.uk
Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss Web: www.amphl.org
BMJ Chronic Illness Matching Scheme Web: www.bmjcareers.com/ chill
BMJ – are you being discriminated against? Web:www.bmjcareers.com/ discrimination
British Doctors and Dentists Group Tel:020 7487 4445
Carers Line Tel:0808 808 7777
Cruse Bereavement Care Tel: 0870 167 1677
Deaf Professionals Network Web:www.deafprofessionals.com
DIAL UK (Disability Information and Advice Line) Tel: 01302 310123
Disabled Living Foundation Helpline Tel: 0845 130 9177
Textphone: 020 7432 8009
 Doctors Supportline Tel:0870 765 0001
 Doctors Support Network Tel:0870 321 0642
 Drinkline Tel: 0800 917 8282
 Narcotics Anonymous Tel:020 7730 0009
 RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) Tel: 020 7250 3222
Textphone:020 7250 4119
 Release (drugs and legal advice for users, families and friends) Tel:0845 450 0215
 RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) Tel: 020 7388 1266
RNID (Royal National Institute for the Deaf) Web:www.rnid.org.uk
Samaritans Tel:08457 90 90 90
Sick Doctors Trust Tel:0870 444 5163
Victim Support Line Tel:0845 30 30 900
Textphone:020 7896 3776

If none of the above seem appropriate, try “The Telephone Helplines Directory”. It contains contact details for all helplines that are members of the Telephone Helplines Association (this is a voluntary membership). Directories can be viewed at local libraries or on-line at www.helplines.org.uk

Counselling Services

Just a hunch, but as a medic, I’d suspect you are a highly motivated and independent individual who is disconcerted with the thought of asking someone else for help. Don’t be.

Your GP can arrange counselling on your behalf – however, there is often a considerable wait.

Useful Organisations
Organisation Contact Details
BMA Counselling Service Tel:0645 200 169
National Counselling Service for Sick Doctors Tel:0870 241 0535
The UK Council for Psychotherapy Tel:020 7436 3002
UK Register of Counsellors Tel:0870 443 5232
Fax:0870 443 5161

For doctors in training, employment and training are inextricably linked, and many issues overlap both fields. To achieve specific post-grad qualifications, specific jobs are required, desired and sought – even if the link between that “must-have” job and your end-career post are tenuous.


You may discover that the combination of your particular impairment / illness plus a career in Medicine had not been considered possible by Deaneries / Professional Bodies. This does not necessarily mean that it is not possible – only that no one has thought about it before. It does mean that it will be up to you to prove that your combination of disability and career choice is viable – if you wish to accept that challenge.


Be pro-active - bite the bullet and construct a list of potential difficulties that you can envisage – anything you can think of. It isn’t a pleasant task, but if you’ve already addressed the issue, no-one can surprise you with a “problem”. Some examples:

Challenge your own preconceptions. Are the difficulties on your list actual? Or, having exposed yourself to a difficulty, did you find that it wasn’t a problem after all?

Devise your own solutions to your difficulties:

It’s far easier for a Deanery, Trust or Royal College to say “yes” to a coherent plan if you have spent the considerable time and effort answering all of their questions before they have even thought of them.


There should be advice and support available here. Some Deaneries are beginning to appoint specific members of staff, but with the increasing numbers of medical students with disabilities entering the profession, this is an area that will have to expand.

Standard training programmes may not be appropriate.

Should a change in career prove preferable, there should be ways and means of negotiating transition to alternative specialities or training.

Royal Colleges

The Royal Colleges are now subject to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and as qualification bodies, must therefore ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled doctors.

Each Royal College sets specific entry requirements for post-graduate examinations and specialist training programmes.

You and your appropriate College may wish to negotiate

Identify a specific individual within the College – and stick to them. Phone, e-mail, write……. Be persistent. See our Career Development: Postgraduate Training page for useful contacts.

Your Employer

Your contract

Disability Advisor

This is an individual who is employed within an organisation to assess, co-ordinate needs and ensure that disabled employees have every necessary adaptation. Some are employed full-time in this capacity, whilst others (usually in smaller companies) perform the task on a part-time or ad-hoc basis. Sadly, not available everywhere - not even in every NHS Trust.

Try and identify someone within your organisation and enlist their support.

Occupational Health Physician

Be open and honest. Don’t be tempted to paint a picture that is rosier than reality. You are going to need to be able to function in your employee capacity. Don’t bend the truth in order to get back to work earlier than you are actually ready - you’ll have to be able to cope. If the Occupational Health physician doesn’t know everything, they’re not in a position to ensure your safety and wellbeing, nor that of your patients.

Don’t be surprised if you’re a new challenge for the Occupational Health physician, and they may well have little/no experience in dealing chronically ill / disabled doctors.

Don’t be afraid to ask to be referred to someone who does have prior experience in your particular area of need – even if it means going out of area.

Why bother?

Access to Work (AtW)

Access to Work is a UK wide scheme administered via your regional Jobcentre Plus office.

AtW aims to assist individual disabled people to meet the cost of help they require to do a specific job – help that a non-disabled person doing the same job would not need. An Access to Work Advisor will conduct an interview with you and establish the help, support and further specialist assessments that you might need in order to be able to be employed in a specific role. Support is provided on an individual basis.

There is scope for assistance with aids and equipment, personal help, alterations to the physical environment and assistance with transportation.

AtW may require specialist reports from other professionals before agreeing support e.g. someone who specialises in assessing the IT needs of visually impaired individuals.

The percentage funding available from AtW varies according to the total cost of assistance required and whether the client is unemployed, newly appointed, or in longterm employment.

Contact addresses for local offices are available from the Access to Work Website.

Additional Considerations

This is only a briefest of guides to other sources of help and advice:

Social Services

If you become registered disabled, a social worker will be assigned to you.

They can assist:

Rehabilitation Officers

Occupational Therapy

Blue badge scheme

If mobility is difficult, contact your local council to see whether you could benefit from receipt of a Disabled Person’s Car Badge – don’t worry if you don’t drive, the badge follows you and can be used in the car of whomever is driving you.


Your Finances

Being disabled or chronically ill is not healthy for your bank balance. Being out of work; having your hours (and banding supplements) confined; being unable to undertake locums etc. etc. all take their toll. Then, of course, there are the costs that you have to bare because of your illness or disability – equipment costs, prescription charges, travel costs……. Here are a few considerations:

Tax Credits

You may be entitled to tax credits e.g. Blind persons tax allowance.


Help with Health Costs

Prescription charges, travel to hospital appointments, sight test, spectacles / contact lenses, wigs etc are all additional costs that can be encountered due to illness or disability. They’re particularly unwelcome when unable to work, and sick-leave payment has ceased.

The leaflet HC11 Help with Health Costs is available from:

If you are not entitled to free prescriptions – consider whether a pre-payment certificate is a better option. Application forms and current charges are obtainable from pharmacies and post offices.

Your optician will be able to inform you if you are entitled to reduced or free sight tests and prescription spectacles or contact lenses.

Additional Sources of Financial Assistance

The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund may be able to provide assistance to doctors and their families where illness, disability or impairment has impinged on income.

Useful Organisations
Organisation Contact Details
Benefits Agency Enquiry Line Tel:0800 882200
For hearing / speech impaired people: 0800 243355
Disabled Persons Tax Credit Information Line Tel:0845 605 5858
For hearing / speech impaired people: 0845 608 8844
Disability Benefits Unit Tel:0845 712 3456
For hearing / speech impaired people: 0845 722 4433 
Help with Health Costs Web:www.doh.gov.uk/ nhscharges/hc11.htm
Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF) Tel: 020 8540 9194
Fax: 020 8542 0494
Web: www.rmbf.org

Try also your local County Council and Citizens Advice Bureau