Working in the UK Health Sector an Emotional Roller-coaster For Migrant Nurses

YOU might have read or heard about a Zimbabwean nurse who recently relocated to the United Kingdom (UK) only to die two months into her stay in the Diaspora. According preliminary reports from her close relatives and friends, Divine Mupoperi (30) died from suspected seizures she might have experienced in her sleep. She survived by three children, a 12 year old and twins who are 16 months old. May her dear Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

By Michael Gwarisa

Even though this publication is not yet privy to Divine’s postmortem results as yet, it is possible that her seizures might have been triggered by stress due to numerous pressures that come with her job especially if one is a migrant health worker. According to studies, depression could be a trigger for non-epileptic seizures in highly stressed individuals.

The United Kingdom among other European countries opened up invitations for migrant health care workers to apply and work in the UK due to increased demand for healthcare workforce services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Owing to Zimbabwe’s healthcare industry’s woes which have lasted for decades which range from poor remuneration, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) among others, such a call is irresistible. As a result, more than 2000 healthcare workers left the country for greener pastures during the year 2021 alone while a sizable number are already finalizing paperwork to move to the UK and other countries anytime soon.

Working in the UK is like the Zimbabwean dream for almost every Zimbabwean nurse. However, before one, especially a healthcare worker decides to move to the UK, they must be prepared to deal with certain shocks that they may come across upon arrival. From a distance, it’s all rosy but when you finally get there, you might encounter certain conditions that might strain your mental health to unimaginable levels.

To give us a narrative of the UK experience from a migrant nurse perspective, the HealthTimes caught up with Trish (Real Name Protected) a nurse who relocated to the UK more than a year ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 First maybe let me tell you that there are a lot of untold stories that you only get to find out the moment you set foot here but then it would be too late for you to then turn back and go back home. You then ask yourself and say okay, should I go back home and if I go back home what am I going to be doing. As for me I have told my friends back that if I am not going to tell you the truth, than I won’t be good friend. England is not paradise as what people think in terms of work, socially among a host of other issues,” said Trish.

In her own words, Trish believes only a book can sum up the experience better as they are a plethora of issues that she believes nurses and healthcare workers wishing to migrate should know of before they set off on their journey overseas.

Examination Pressure:

“For starters, according to my own experience, when I came at least I did not have to struggle to look for accommodation because the institution I work for, the National Health Service (NHS) provided me with accommodation for three good months. It’s a fully furnished house within the hospital’s premises. You are given free accommodation for three months and then after three months, the assumption is that you are supposed to be settled by then, because that is when you will be fully registered. You would have done the final examination for you to be registered with the nursing board this side.

“At that time you don’t have any bills to pay and that’s better. However, at the same time you are supposed to write an examination and that examination also determines whether you stay or you are going back home to Zimbabwe. It’s not only my hospital but everyone who comes here needs to write that exam so that you are fully registered.  Though you are given like three takes to write the exam, it just comes with a lot of pressure to do it because you are just supposed to do everything within that time frame. So when you get here, already you have got pressure that I need to be fully registered, I need to write an exam. It’s called an OSCE Exam which stands for Objective Structured Clinical Examination.”


Of Subtle Racism and House Hunting

“So after you are done with your examination and you have passed, obviously your accommodation would have lapsed. You are now supposed to find your own accommodation and that’s when the stress then comes because when you now start to look for accommodation, that’s when it then strikes that there is something called Racism in this world. It’s very subtle but it’s there. At times you get a house you like and you book an appointment with the property owner or landlord to view the house. The moment they discover your black skin, just know your chances of getting accommodation are now slim.

“They won’t tell you to your face because obviously it’s illegal but you will just feel that the struggle is real out there. House hunting is a challenge. You can spend months without getting accommodation. For me because I wanted an apartment, it didn’t take me any hustles to get accommodation but for those who wanted to move with their families, kids etc, it took them a month or more to really settle down. It had to take the intervention of Human Resources in some cases who had write letters confirming that indeed one is their employee.”

Constant Fear Of Losing Your Nursing Job (The Pin Factor)

“Unlike in Africa or Zimbabwe where mistakes do happen. In the NHS or any health institution in the United Kingdom, there is no room for mistakes and a silly little mistake that is not usually a big issue in Africa or Zimbabwe, can land you a dismissal and lead to the revoking of your visa. Here in the UK there something that is called a Pinned Nurse. When you come here and you register, you are given a Pin Number so that Pin is like your registration code. So whatever misconduct that you do, you can be de-registered or de-pinned.

“This is then different from back home whereby it is very rare for a nurse to lose a job or be dismissed as a nurse. Those are actually the rarest of occasions back home. Here, there are just things that we probably thought were minor back home that can actually make you lose your pin and losing your pin would mean going back home because obviously when you are coming here, you are coming with a visa and you are on that Visa for a five year period so if you lose your pin, this then just means that you are going back home. This then adds to one of the things that gets a nurse to be depressed here because whatever you are doing you are just trying to guard your pin and you trying so hard not to make any mistake. Basically you work under immense pressure fearing to make any mistake.”

Things that could make one lose their pin include incompetence, not having necessary knowledge of the job, false documentation, wrong medication and wrong dosage of medication. Not being honest also makes you lose your job and pin at the blink of an eye. If one lies that they have turned the patient and then the officials go to that patient and ask if he/she has been turned and discover that you were not honest, you lose your pin. Once you lose your pin, your name and pin are published on the NHS website and it will be difficult to get a job for another five years.


Bills and Tax

You might have heard of people who work more than two jobs in the UK. Well, it’s not by design. The bills in the UK will defiantly humble you. At times, you get paid today and soon after paying rent, you are left with something that might hardly take you through the month. In wealthier places, a one Bed apartment goes for something between £700.00 and £800.00 and this is excluding water, electricity bills or internet bills. To make ends meet and to cover some of these bills, some migrant nurses are now working six 12 hour shifts per week instead of the prescribed hours. The more you work, the more money you get and the more money you get, the more you are taxed.

“So that’s another trigger for stress here, the money is not enough, the bills are just too much, you can actually part with £1000.00 on bills before you even buy food. That’s when people then decide to pick on another job. It’s allowed as long as it’s still a nursing job. It’s either you pick on an extra shift where you work. At times I can decide to pick extra shifts at my workplace during days I was supposed to have been off work then I will get paid on a weekly basis. You can also pick an extra shift even at a different employer altogether.

“You can go to an old people’s home or another health institution. As long as it’s a nursing job, you are good go. That way you are rest assured that you can pay your rent from the monies you get from extra shifts and then use your salary for other things. At times now that’s when you hear that someone has died due to work pressures because people are not giving themselves enough time to rest. The body needs to rest but the money is so enticing. Imagine getting paid every week, surely who wouldn’t want that. However people are doing this forgetting about their health and mental well-being.”


No Social Life

Back in Zimbabwe, nurses and other healthcare workers can afford to go out during the weekends for a good time with friends and family. In the UK, instead of buying trendy clothes and all, nurses invest in pyjamas instead because their social life literally revolves around the hospital or health institution they work in and home so there is not much need for going out and slaying.

“You might have spoken to others in the profession here in the UK. You see that we invest in Pyjamas because we hardly go out. After coming from work, we go straight home and sleep waiting for another shift. If you are not careful, your life will certainly revolve around shifts and money and you might not even give your self time to cool down and rest. That’s not good and it so much takes a toll on your mental health.”

The list is not exhaustive. Please bear in mind that there is certainly nothing wrong with migrating to the UK or another country of your choice. However, juts make sure that whatever you do, you prioritize your health before anything else especially your mental health.

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