Filipino nurses working in Wales tell their stories

Katherine Casaban-Rose
Katherine Casaban-Rose
Last year 8,500 nurses and midwives came from abroad to work in the UK, many from countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines. This year, with foreign recruits set to outstrip the number of newly-qualified British nurses for the first time, Clare Hutchinson spoke to nurses who travelled from the Philippines to work here in Wales
KATHERINE Cabasan-Rose was 26 when she first moved to the UK a decade ago.
At first it was a strain to leave family and friends behind but the money, she said, was worth it.
Ten years on and 36-year-old Katherine has a Welsh husband, a five-year-old daughter and earns a decent wage as a ward manager at the burns unit at Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
It is a far cry from life in her more “primitive” homeland, where the average monthly wage for a nurse is around 700 Philippine Pesos, the equivalent of £100.
Katherine trained as a nurse in Tuguegarao City, in the far north of the country.
Nurses in the Philippines, she said, are trained to work hard and fast because of the sheer numbers of patients who come through the country’s private healthcare system on a daily basis.
Emphasis is on getting the patients “in and out” and it is this work ethic, and the attraction of wages, that makes the Philippines such fertile ground for NHS recruitment.
When Katherine moved to the UK after three years in Saudi Arabia she saw it as a stop-off point on her way to the USA.
“I wanted to move to the UK because I thought it would be easier to get to the States from there,” she said.
“I came straight to Wales and when I arrived I found I liked it – wherever you go people smile and chat with you.
“I went to New York for a holiday to see what it would be like working there and the people seemed to be snappy and I thought, ‘maybe I don’t want to work here after all’.”
Katherine now lives with her Welsh husband Andrew, 39, and their daughter Elizabeth in Llandough, near Penarth, where she plans to stay until she and Andrew retire, after which they will spend their summers in Wales and winters in the Philippines, because, she said: “The one thing I can’t get used to here is the weather.”
She stays in touch with her classmates from Tuguegarao City on Facebook and finds them scattered around the world in countries as far-flung as America and Australia.
When Katherine first came to Wales, she said, the language barrier was hard and it was sometimes difficult to mix socially with her non-Filipino colleagues.
But now on a works’ night out she is happy to be the only non-drinker and on a recent international day at her daughter’s school she spent 20 minutes telling the children about the Philippines and letting them taste its traditional dishes.
She said: “I’m happy here because I have been given a good opportunity, we have a good standard of living and I have friends here.
“It is an opposite culture to back home, which is a bit primitive, although it is becoming more Westernised.
“I go home every year because it is the only time I can see my family, but it is like my mum says, ‘love your life, but don’t forget us’.
“I do love my life and I love my job – as far as I’m concerned it is the best job in the world.”
Jaime Menor moved to Wales from his country’s capital, Manila, in 1999.
The dad of one, who works in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital of Wales, took a job in the UK for financial reasons.
It is part of Filipino culture for working people to help their families by sending money to parents, cousins, aunts and uncles – whoever is in need.
Jaime, 38, who lives in Llanrumney with his Filipino wife Mary, 31, and their four-year-old son Elijah, said: “I responded to the recruitment drive at the time primarily for financial reasons, because the wages here are much better than back home, and also as a way to help my family.
“I was apprehensive to start with because I didn’t know what to expect or what life would be like here.
“I knew it would be an expensive place to live, but the worst thing for me was being away from my family.”
When Jaime arrived in the UK he came straight to Cardiff, where he has stayed ever since.
“It is very good here,” he said.
“Cardiff in particular is not a big city but it has a cosmopolitan life and at the same time you can get out of the city and experience the country.”
When it comes to his work, there are some striking differences between the private healthcare system in the Philippines and public NHS in Wales.
“Obviously you are treating people with the same conditions and in similar ways, but you find that because in the Philippines it is all private, once you get better you are out of there because the longer you stay the more you spend.
“Here, because of the NHS, you stay as long as you need to.
“As a nurse working in the Philippines you just treat people and discharge them, but here you are looking at the total needs of the patient.
“You look at how old they are and ask will they cope? Are they living alone? Are they safe? If they aren’t then you talk to certain agencies. And, of course, there is lots and lots of paperwork. That is what I found difficult adjusting to at first.
“It is much better here in the UK, but I think we can still improve, for example waiting lists for surgery are still very long, but then if it is something acute, if you are unwell, you can go to the emergency unit and get treated straight away, which is wonderful.”
Up until January, Jaime was working at the smaller intensive care unit at Llandough Hospital where, he said, he had a good relationship with his colleagues.
He said: “We really enjoyed each others’ company and we knew each other very well.
“There has been a bit of a change and I work in the Heath now and I am having to get used to new people and new equipment, but everyone is very helpful and supportive.”
Jaime’s wife Mary, who is also a nurse, moved to the UK four years ago after the couple met in the Philippines during one of his annual visits.
But while both have family back home, they have no intention of leaving their adoptive country.
“I have invested too much here in Wales,” said Jaime.
“I have got a mortgage, a little boy, I know people here and I’ve established friends – Filipino and Welsh.
“We are more or less settled and I think this will be it, although if I win the lottery I will buy a much bigger house.
“I’m an adopted Welshman and I’m here for good.”

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