Pinoy nurses fill vacancies in specialised areas in UK hospitals

by Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau, London

SALISBURY, England - The United Kingdom nursing work force is ageing and British nurses are leaving the country to work in the United States and in recent years, in Australia.

These are some of the contributing factors for the shortage of qualified nurses in the UK both in the National Health Service or NHS and the private sector.

The UK faces the so-called graying of the population of the nursing work force and the younger ones are not interested in the nursing profession because they have more options for jobs that offer better pay and working condition. Those who leave the county to work elsewhere are driven by better pay and living conditions.

This is not the first time the UK has to deal with this problem. In the past, it has also turned to foreign nurses to do the job its peoples have pushed aside and snubbed.

Pinoy nurses for export

While the UK is in need of more nurses, the Philippines continues to produce nurses for export. Philippines is one of the biggest suppliers of overseas nurses to the UK, trailing behind is India, Britain’s former colony. UK’s overseas recruitment of nurses was criticized by the Brits because it is said to be designed as a short-term solution although it has helped the UK health sector manage the crisis.

The Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury also turned to overseas recruitment to fill the vacancies in the hospital. Recently, it recruited some 17 OR (operating room) or theatre nurses from the Philippines.

“In the past two years our experience advertising for theatre nurses nationally and in Europe had very little success. Our reliance on agency nurses was high. We have now filled our vacancies in theatres, however we do have to look to the future and plan the workforce. There are a number of retirements in the next five years and recruitment will continue. Having established the current workforce we intend to recruit in this country and Europe,” said Colette Martindale, Surgical Directorate of Salisbury District Hospital.

She said there is no plan for another trip to the Philippines, however, that could also change. She also added that there is no preference over Filipino nurses but they chose to go to the Philippines this year because they knew ‘there was a reliable field of candidates.’

“There are still a high number of unemployed nurses in the Philippines. We have recruited from there in the past and we know the quality of work is good and the retention rate is good,” she added.

Nurses in specialized areas

Outside of any particular specialties, nursing has been removed from the ‘shortage occupation list’ by the UK Home Office. This means that employers with band 5 and 6 nursing posts have to prove that the vacancies could not be filled by nurses who are residents or nationals of the UK or of countries of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Salisbury District Hospital has advertised the vacancies for 2 years but there were no takers from the UK and from EEA.

The gold mine that the UK has found in the Philippines in early 2000 is still an attractive source to this date, providing work force for the UK health sector.

The 17 nurses that filled the vacancies at the Salisbury District Hospital have now started the Overseas Nursing Program. Nurses who were trained outside the EEA are required to pass the program and be registered at the Nursing and Midwifery Council or NMC.

“We have to undergo the classes and we have two days study at City College London. Nagpupunta sila dito. Para talagang school. Para ma-meet namin yun standards of nursing dito. At saka may different laws here as compared sa Pilipinas. Ang dami ditong laws na nagpo-protect sa patients so kailangan naming malaman yun,” said 24 -year- old Cathleen Lagtapon.

A pittance of a salary back home

Nursing work in the UK has always been attractive to Pinoy nurses because of the significant increase in their salary once they work in the UK.

“That’s one of the reasons I took up nursing because I wanted to work outside of the country. I really want to experience the hi-tech operations to further my career as an OR nurse,” said Lagtapon.

She was working as an OR nurse in Bacolod City earning a salary of P9,000 a month. As a nurse in training in the UK, she would receive a salary of 18,000 pounds annually or around P122,000 per month. Once registered with the NMC, there will be an increase of up to £5,000 in her annual salary.

Raising three children and working for a government hospital in the Philippines, Reynaldo Boy decided it was time to go where the grass was greener.

“Kasi nung una okay naman ang work ko sa Pilipinas. Since nasa government naman ako, ayos naman ang suweldo. Then later, nag high school na anak ko, I began to think na parang kulang ang kikitain ko dun,” he said.

With so many nurses in the Philippines seeking employment abroad, he considers himself lucky. He said however that as a father, there are trade-offs. He now has to get used to the long distance parenting set-up he has conceived for him and his children.

“Hindi ko na sila mababantayan dun. [Pero] yun naman talaga ang purpose nung pumunta ako dito to give them a better life. Pag nakapag-ipon ako, pwede kong makuha sila. Kung di ko man makuha, yung naipon ko, pwede kong ipadala sa kanila para sa studies nila-- to give them a better future, para makapag -aral sila, maging good citizen din some day,” he added.

Work ethics and family values are just some of the qualities that endear Pinoys to their British employers.

‘Compassionate, caring and hard working’

“I have found the Filipino nurses to be caring, compassionate, intelligent and hard working. They treat patients with respect and kindness. They have strong family values and they are driven to protect and provide for their families. Once adapted into the culture and way of life in a UK hospital they are encouraged to develop and become leaders in the future,” said Colette Martindale.

For Lagtapon and Boy, the opportunity to work abroad, to further their career as nursing professionals and provide a better future for their families are now happening. They are very grateful for this chance and the fact that unlike many others who came here, they didn’t even pay an exorbitant amount. They said their dream to work in the UK only cost them P15,000 for fees. But whatever social cost the nurses have to contend with in the future, for now they are happy.

“I want to keep pinching myself kung nandito talaga ako,” said Lagtapon.