Thousands of registered 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, revealed that more than 2,600 registered nurses have left the Southern African country since 2021, leaving local hospitals and clinic 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. This week new data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revealed a surge in the number of international nurses and midwives especially from Africa joining the UK register.
Poor remuneration and suffocating working conditions
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.’
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 criticized for relying on overseas recruitment
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.
A welcome development for most Zimbabweans
The massive recruitment initiative by the UK government is however welcome by the general Zimbabwe populace who view it an opportunity to flee from poverty. Apart from the massive recruitment of qualified nurses, the UK has been recruiting nurse aids from Zimbabwe.
Due to shrinking opportunities in the country, most Zimbabweans especially the youth opt to enroll at a local institution for a first aid certificate so that they can leave the country for the UK.
Nursing assistants in the UK earn an average of £20 000 per annum (US$26 000), which translates to about US$2100 per month which is better than the average US$120 which a qualified nurse earns at local State-run health institutions.