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Nurses coming to work in UK after ‘forced migration’ from Zimbabwe

Thousands of nurses faced with broken agreements and withheld pay have flocked to the UK, leaving local hospitals short-staffed
A nurse immunises a child against measles at a clinic in the town of Chitungwiza, 20km from the Zimbabwe capital of Harare

Thousands of nurses faced with broken agreements and withheld pay have flocked to the UK, leaving local hospitals short-staffed

Thousands of nurses have left Zimbabwe to work in the UK in what has been described as ‘forced migration’ by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) .

Zimbabwean nurses have faced long-standing disputes over pay and working conditions, with nurses facing issues of pay being withheld and staffing agreements disregarded.

The development comes as new figures from the Zimbabwean Health Service Board, obtained by Reuters news agency, revealed that more than

Thousands of nurses faced with broken agreements and withheld pay have flocked to the UK, leaving local hospitals short-staffed

A nurse immunises a child against measles at a clinic in the town of Chitungwiza, 20km from the Zimbabwe capital of Harare
A nurse immunises a child against measles at a clinic in the town of Chitungwiza, 20km from the Zimbabwe capital of Harare Picture: Alamy

Thousands of nurses have left Zimbabwe to work in the UK in what has been described as ‘forced migration’ by the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

Zimbabwean nurses have faced long-standing disputes over pay and working conditions, with nurses facing issues of pay being withheld and staffing agreements disregarded.

The development comes as new figures from the Zimbabwean Health Service Board, obtained by Reuters news agency, revealed that more than 2,600 registered nurses have left the country since 2021, leaving local hospitals short-staffed and the health service in a precarious state.

This includes some 1,700 registered nurses who resigned last year and more than 900 who left this year, with the majority finding work in Britain, according to the report.

Latest NMC figures show surge in international nurses and midwives joining the UK register

ICN chief executive Howard Catton told Nursing Standard of the dire working conditions in the country, saying nurses were being paid as little as USD$100 (around £82) a month and were often having their pay withheld.

‘It’s a very challenging place to work as a nurse,’ he said. ‘I’ve written to their government about the current situation because the nursing workforce there don’t feel valued or respected.

‘This means if a recruiter comes along from another country with considerably better terms and conditions, it can be very attractive. I’ve had it said to me a few times, it almost feels like a forced migration because the conditions in your home country have deteriorated to the point where you feel like you have no choice.’

This week new data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council revealed a surge in the number of international nurses and midwives joining the UK register.

ICN chief executive Howard Catton
Howard Catton Picture: Barney Newman

Between April and September 2022 some 389 new joiners were from Zimbabwe. While this represents a 16% drop from the same period in 2021, it is significantly higher than previous years. In the six months to September 2021 there were 463 new joiners from Zimbabwe – an 807% increase from the same period a year earlier.

UK told to consider the impact of recruiting from low-income and red list countries

The UK government has faced criticism for its reliance on overseas recruitment to plug workforce shortages, particularly from countries that are on the World Health Organization’s red list, which means no active recruitment is permitted from these places.

Mr Catton argued that while the Zimbabwean government ‘absolutely needs to do more’ to support nursing staff with better pay and working conditions, countries such as the UK need to consider the impact of recruiting from low-income countries.

‘I’ve had nurse leaders in these places say to me that it might only be a small number of nurses who go but it can mean they can no longer continue to provide adequate healthcare,’ Mr Catton added.

According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Zimbabwe has 1.25 nurses per 1,000 of population. The NCBI says this is far below the global median of around three nurses per 1,000 and shows there is a ‘critical shortage that needs immediate resolution to enhance the accessibility of healthcare’.


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