The number of NHS nurses from outside the EU has increased in the last year, whereas the number of those from the UK has fallen. West Suffolk Hospital says it could not “do what we do without them”. What is it like for three nurses from Nigeria working there?
Career development was one of the reasons why Oluwatobi Abiodun moved from Nigeria to the UK to work as an emergency department nurse.
The other reason were the financial benefits, which Mr Abiodun says a lot of people shy away from talking about.
“When you look at the salary difference, the gap is huge and it’s not constant… the significant differences are very, very huge,” he said.
When he is not working, Mr Abiodun posts videos on social media to document his experience of relocating to the UK.
He says a lot of healthcare workers are moving abroad because wages are not always paid on time and some patients do not have the money to pay for medication, putting pressure on staff.
“For me, I’ve become a better person, I’ve become a better nurse – I’ve improved myself career-wise , education, finance, emotionally as well, so it’s a positive thing for me.”
Before moving to Suffolk 18 months ago to work as a cardiac nurse, Lydia Akinrinde knew friends and colleagues who had already moved to the UK.
“I used to work as a general nurse back in my country, and coming here to a special field which is cardiology, there is a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn to generally work in the NHS,” she said.
About one in three nurses at West Suffolk hospital are currently from countries outside the UK, a figure that has increased from 28% in 2021.
It is a trend seen in the UK as a whole, with an increase in the number of nurses from non-EU countries in the last year of 11,224 – whereas the number of UK nurses has fallen by 6,085.
The total number of nurses in the UK in December was just over 328,000.
Ms Akinrinde, 27, said: “Here you work with people from different nationalities, learning their culture, their way of life and also communication.”
“That is a whole diverse community of people that just come in everyday to take care of patients.
“We bring our knowledge together, basically to help the patient to get better.”
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For Beth Aghahowa, one of the most surprising things about relocating to the UK has been the support from colleagues.
She says West Suffolk Hospital has given her more than just a job. The pastoral team there has helped provide accommodation, food, exam help, and mental health support – and helped her and her colleagues to feel part of the community.
“It’s been difficult but it hasn’t been impossible because we have [their] support,” she says.
The 29-year-old decided to move away to get more experience and has found patients have reacted differently to her being here.
“We say in Nigeria you’re not Jollof rice, everybody’s not going to love you,” she says.
“You’re not everyone’s cup of tea but what I’m here to do is to do my job – to be a nurse.”
Every month West Suffolk Hospital has 10 new joiners from outside the UK, for whom it is able to provide accommodation and support.
The hospital has been awarded an award from the NHS for its work to support international nurses.
Jeremy Over, the hospital’s executive director of workforce and communications, says the level of turnover the NHS is experiencing in its UK-based workforce is higher than before Covid, which he attributes to staff delaying retirement and others reassessing their choices since the pandemic.
The hospital was actively recruiting from Africa, but is now focusing on the Philippines after a change to the NHS red list earlier this year – employers and agencies are prohibited from actively recruiting from any country listed on it.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them [non-UK nurses],” Mr Over says.
“We have many hundreds of staff from other countries and they are crucial to our teams – and most importantly to our patients who will benefit from the care they provide.”
Health minister Will Quince said there were “record numbers” of nurses working within the NHS.
“We are hugely grateful for the contribution overseas nurses make to the NHS,” he said.
“Ethical international recruitment, in line with the UK’s Code of Practice, is just one way we’re doing this.
“We continue to make significant progress in training and recruiting new staff both at home and internationally.”
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