A REFUGEE has become the first asylum-seeking doctor to join the region's health service.

The male doctor, who has not been named, is working at a hospital on Tyneside after passing the necessary examinations.

More than 35 refugee doctors are undergoing training in the region, backed by a recent allocation from the Department of Health.

There are high hopes that the North-East's under-strength medical workforce will soon be boosted by asylum-seekers eager to practise their skills.

The region has fewer family doctors per head than almost anywhere else in England.

But the head of the North of England Refugee Service has expressed concern that two newly-qualified refugee doctors had to leave the North-East because they could not find jobs.

Despite the region being short of at least 60 family doctors, and many hospital departments being under-strength the two newly- qualified asylum-seekers went to Manchester and Cumbria to find work as GPs.

Daoud Zaaroura, chief executive of the North of England Refugee Service, said it was "ironic" that locally-trained doctors could not find work in the region, yet Health Secretary Alan Milburn was recently in Spain as part of his target to recruit 1,000 foreign doctors to work in the NHS.

"If we provide this level of support, it seems strange we are saying sorry we don't have a place," said Mr Zaaroura.

"Everybody is screaming for more NHS doctors - it is not a secret," he added.

"It only costs about £1,000 each to cover the costs of courses and fees, and it means we end up with a qualified doctor once again making good use of their skills in the community," said Mr Zaarroura.

Dr David Chappel, consultant in public health at Newcastle and North Tyneside Health Authority, has been heavily involved in helping asylum-seeking doctors.

"We are still finding about two a month. Some have been working as taxi drivers or in a cash-and-carry shop to make ends meet," he said.

Most of the asylum-seeking doctors are from the Middle East, Iraq and Iran, but others are from eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and other world trouble spots.