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NHS: Zimbabwean Nurses in the UK

The challenges faced by healthcare workers

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Zimbabwean nurse who migrated to the UK last year has found the going tough, surviving on patients’ leftovers.

When Esther (surname withheld) migrated to the UK last September ,she thought her life would change for the better. Like thousands of trained nurses, searching for greener pastures overseas, Esther a mother of three was elated to make the trip. But when the Zimbabwean nurse got to the UK, it was not as she had expected.

Thousands of Zimbabwean nurses and health care workers are leaving the country as the Zimbabwean economy is gripped by unrelenting economic problems. The UK is currently bolstering its health services industry following its decision to pull out from the European Union (EU).

Zimbabwe has long underpaid its health workers, with their meagre salaries only managing to pay rentals and food while most of it is spent on transport. Exhausted and hungry, unable to afford lunch in the hospital canteen, barely able to afford groceries to make a packed lunch, nurse Esther has resorted to eating patients’ leftovers during her shifts.

It’s not allowed. When she’s been caught she’s been reprimanded, and she certainly doesn’t want to be eating the dregs left on stained plastic trays. What’s more, the nurse, from Zimbabwe, says plenty of her colleagues do the same.

Esther, 36, who with a heavy heart is supportive of strike action for better pay in the UK, expected to be announced by The Royal College Of Nursing tomorrow, explains: “Yes, I go without meals. Lunch, sometimes breakfast. You can’t go and buy a hot meal at work, it costs £6-7.”

“Sometimes you have to grab extra sandwiches from the patients’ trollies. Of course people will tell you it’s against hospital policy. Some say it’s okay. Most of the time I do that. Sometimes they reprimand you, but they have not reported me. It is common to take the leftover food, even the British nurses do this. It’s only ever the leftovers, and it keeps you going.” Zimbabwean Nurse in the UK

Esther does not want to give her full name or say where she lives and works. Many nurses are too nervous or embarrassed to talk at all about the hardships they face or the possibility of a strike.

The mum-of-three, who arrived here from Zimbabwe last September on a visa to fill much needed NHS posts – 25,000 have left the nursing and midwifery register – has been earning £26,000 at a hospital in the south of England.

But she has struggled so much with high rent, spiralling energy bills and grocery costs, she is now working in a NHS hospital as an agency nurse and has moved to the north in hope of cheaper accommodation.

She has an offer of permanent work from another NHS hospital but is worried about the low salary. However, agency work, although higher-paying, is insecure and demands expensive commutes which negate the better salary. She’s still relying on patients’ leftovers, she admits. A role in a care home would actually pay more, but she would love to remain with the NHS.

“There is more job security and there is a pride that comes with working for the NHS,” she explains.

She is embarrassed to collect food from her local church’s food bank.

“Sometimes in church I see people putting food at the door but you try to maintain your pride.”

Bryan

Person for people. Reader of writings. Writer of readings.

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