• Saturday, July 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigerian nurses fleeing to UK hit 4yr high

Nigerian nurses fleeing to UK hit 4yr high

Only 20 Nigeria-trained nurses joined the UK nursing workforce between the six-months of October 2015 and March 2016. Four years later in the same period of 2020, the number jumped to 444, the highest number of Nigeria-trained nurses joining in a six-month period.

Presently, there are 3,767 Nigeria-trained nurses on the register of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) of the United Kingdom. While they are still not as much as medical doctors who have left Nigeria, the departure pace has quickened in recent years and if not for COVID-19, the exodus by end of 2020 would have been more significant.

BusinessDay analysis of the NMC UK’s register for the last five years and interviews with Nigerian nurses (already in the UK and planning to leave) show a steady but overlooked trend over the years.

Medical doctors are not the only ones leaving Nigeria, and while their departure has received more coverage, other health workers are leaving too. As at June 20, 2018, there were 5,351 Nigeria-trained doctors in the UK and by January 31, 2021, the number had risen to 8,088. With entry requirements for nurses said to be lower and more nurses available in Nigeria (although still not sufficient), it would only be a matter of time before the population of migrant nurses overtake that of doctors. The NMC register is updated twice a year – March and September – capturing entrants in the six months before each period.

Eyinjuola is one of almost 4,000 Nigerian nurses in the UK where she has now worked for 16 months, earning £2,000 after tax every month, a little over N1 million at the official exchange rate, and more if using the Bureau De Change or parallel rates. In some other sectors such as home care, mental health and the private sector, nurses are paid more, she said.

At N1 million, she now earns 10 times her old pay at a Federal hospital in Nigeria where she worked for four years and earned N100,000 before leaving for greener pastures. Her decision to leave Nigeria was prompted when that hospital owed her salary for eight months at a time. That was her cue to leave.

“It was horrible. I still had to go to work every time I was on duty,” said Eyinjuola, saying, “The distance from my house to the workplace requires four taxis to and fro, and I did this for eight months without salary.”

From start to finish, her exit from Nigeria took all of nine months, which she said should have been six months but had an intentional delay of three months.

In her new place, which is an ‘NHS Trust’ hospital, she said, “The difference is clear. There is always a payday and it can come earlier if the payday is a weekend or public holiday, but it never comes later.”

She was later paid by the federal hospital before leaving Nigeria, “but it was in bits and they’ve deducted the money and rendered it useless,” she said.

The 28-year-old Eyinjuola studied for five years at a state university to obtain a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree. “If you practice in Nigeria, you can practise anywhere,” she said.

Nurses in the UK can take on extra shifts and work hours to make more money than the minimum payment, and during her leave in December 2020, she used some of her vacation periods to earn extra pay before jetting off to neighbouring Scotland.

She is currently a band 5 nurse, which she says is what most new nurses joining from abroad get, although this also depends on the NHS trust.

Her dream was to be a nurse, with full hopes of working for the government. Assumedly, this would have been the Nigerian government, but having been frustrated out of the country, she still works for a government, but now the British one that pays more and treats her better.

“It is fulfilling,” she said, noting, “We might be the least paid but I’ve met a lot of people and our lives have touched each other through Nursing,” reminiscing her time in Nigeria.

Ayomiposi, a 24-year-old Nigeria-trained nurse, has been planning her exit for months. But for a slight upset in her IELTS result, Ayomiposi would have been in the final stage of her exodus to the UK as well. She scored 9 in Listening; 7-speaking; 7 writing, and 6.5 reading instead of 7.

Undeterred, she is retaking the English test soon, having met every other requirement for her UK emigration, including a Computer Based Test (CBT) by the UK NMC. The final step once she passes the IELTS is to find a job, which she says would be easily secured via dedicated online portals, and off she goes.

“Did you hear the latest news that Biden made a Nurse (Susan Orsega) the Acting Surgeon General of the United States of America,” asked Ayomiposi in a WhatsApp chat. “So, tell me why Nurses won’t leave for UK, Ireland, Canada or USA.”

At her current job with a Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO) in Lagos, she would not state her actual pay but gave the range as being between N73,000 and N180,000, whereas she already has a peek into what her future pay at £26,000 – £30,000 could be in the UK.

“Apart from the monetary aspect, which is far better than peanuts Nigerian Nurses earn, I would say a lot of Nurses want better lives, better environment, a government that works, supports and fights for its people,” said Ayomiposi, saying, “A lot of hospitals are not well equipped and Nurses are undervalued here in Nigeria even in the health sector.”

But for COVID-19, many Nurses would have left Nigeria in 2020, a year their services would have been required even more, following an overwhelmed UK and global health system.

Like their doctor counterparts, nurses get relatively cheap medical education in Nigeria, and then make their way abroad to get paid what they consider commensurate to their skill. As an investment decision, the Returns of Investment (ROI) would be in percentages, investment bankers can only ever wishfully dream of attaining in their portfolios.

While it remains doubtful Nigeria will ever be able to pay medical workers as much as they would make abroad, it is also hard to tell what incentives apart from monetary attractions will make them stay back. For as long as the exodus continues, the already bad human capacity deficit will only get worse.