Coronavirus highlights role of foreign staff in British hospitals

by David Harding

Joan Pons Laplana is a senior digital charge nurse working on the frontline in an intensive care unit treating coronavirus patients at Sheffield Teaching Hospital in the north of England.

Like many of his colleagues in the state-run National Health Service (NHS), the 45-year-old medic is not British.

The Spanish national works alongside people from Germany, Italy, Portugal, Philippines and India, as well as those from the UK.

“Sometimes the most difficult accents to understand are the British ones,” Laplana, who has lived in the UK for 20 years, told AFP.

The international mix of staff at Sheffield is far from untypical in British hospitals.

Parliamentary figures published last July show that some 153,000 workers out of 1.2 million NHS staff are non-British.

“This is 13.1 percent of all staff for whom a nationality is known, or just over one in eight,” it reported.

“Between them, these staff hold 200 different non-British nationalities.

Around 65,000 are nationals of other European Union countries — 5.5 percent of NHS staff in England. Around 52,000 staff are Asian nationals, according tot the parliamentary figures.

Among the most common 16 nationalities of people working for the NHS were Indian (21,207), Nigerians (6,770) and Zimbabweans (4,049).

In addition, the health service think tank the King’s Fund, calculates that beyond the NHS, around one in six of the 1.5 million people working in adult social care, in the private sector, are from overseas.

“The NHS depends on the important contribution that they (overseas workers) make,” said Alex Baylis, assistant director of policy at King’s.

“This has come into sharp focus in recent weeks, as all NHS staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to look after patients who are ill with coronavirus.” (AFP)