A campaign to thank international NHS staff, in memory of my daughter-in-law Nikki two years on

While NHS Scotland is devolved, immigration policy is reserved to Westminster.

In memory of his wife Nikki, who died two years ago come March of complicated leukaemia, despite expert care from a multinational team and international cooperation to find a suitable bone marrow donor, my son Geoff is launching this campaign, to enhance awareness of the massive contribution made by immigrants to health services throughout the UK, and without which the NHS would collapse. He writes:


Nikki, Geoff, and ther children Phoebe and Oscar, a few months before she was diagnosed with leukemia

On 21st March it will be 2 years since Nikki died and I want to enlist your help in a campaign I’m working on partly in her memory.  In our first year since losing Nikki we raised over £10k for leukaemia and cancer care and research charities, and nearly £2.5k for Cruse Bereavement Care (who were a lifeline for me when things were at their most difficult).  However, I’m not doing any fundraising now because, whilst this generated public interest, most donations have come from family and friends.  I am well aware that I can induce compassion fatigue amongst everyone I know.

I want to do something else that I see as a fitting memorial to Nikki, and that is a campaign called the United Nations of the NHS, to thank and celebrate our international workforce.  The idea is to thank and celebrate our international NHS staff, to pass on messages to show that they are both needed and wanted and to pass on these messages to their employers and, via the Secretary of State for Health, the government.

This arose partly because of increasingly xenophobic rhetoric amongst politicians (across the political spectrum I should add) that we have seen since the Brexit vote last June.  I was particularly incensed by remarks that suggested that we should somehow aim to phase out foreign doctors in the NHS.

First off, 26% of NHS medical staff are non-UK born and 11% of the NHS workforce as a whole is foreign born.  We cannot recruit enough GPs and consultants as it is, so how can we have a  functioning health service drawing from a much smaller pool of suitably qualified staff?  Even if we were to expand medical education substantially it would take 10 years for a new medical student to become a GP (and there are arguments for making a GP training longer) and longer for a consultant.

Second, there is a moral argument.  After the Brexit vote I have had many EU born friends in tears because the message is “You’re not welcome.”  This, despite the fact that people have been living here for years, have been in jobs, started businesses, paid taxes, had relationships and families and participated as fully in UK national life as anyone who was born here.

Third, and this is why it relates to Nikki.  Nikki’s case was extremely medically complex.  Not only was the particular sub-type of her leukaemia complex and high risk, the nature of her relapse was rare, even for the most specialist haemo-oncologists to have seen.  The consultants leading her care are involved in international research and clinical collaboration, the search for a stem cell donor was international.  The NHS team was international too.  There were Indian doctors and nurses from Spain and Ireland.  Given that the team would also have included scientists, cleaners, caterers, porters, managers and administrators and many others (not all of whom we would have seen) I am sure that other nations were involved in Nikki’s care – hence, the United Nations of the NHS.

Where you come in

This is a web-based campaign (it is still embryonic).  You take a sneak peek at [under construction] and let me have any comments.  We will also be including a page for international NHS staff to share their stories about how they came to be working in the NHS.  But we need patient and carer stories now.

If you have a story of NHS care, where part of that care was provided by or depended on someone foreign born, I really want to hear so we can start with your story.

We will launch initially in Brighton (my adopted home) in March.  There are three reasons for this timing:

  1. The NHS will have a difficult winter and stories about such pressures will be fresh in people’s minds.
  2. This will be around the time that Article 50 will be triggered.
  3. As I said above, this is also the second anniversary of Nikki’s death and I want to do it to commemorate her too. As you probably know, Nikki was mixed heritage and both her parents were immigrants.  She was also very internationalist in her outlook and I know she would approve of this campaign.

If you could help, particularly if you could provide a story before we launch I would be extremely grateful.

Thank you so much.



About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on January 6, 2017, in Health, Immigration, Politics, Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. On Fri, 6 Jan 2017 at 7:12 pm, Primate’s Progress wrote:

    > > > Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t seem to permit copying and pasting the > link, hence this response via email. A lot of emphasis is place on > encouraging overseas doctors to immigrate. But that still doesnt provide > enough GPs and medical practitioners. It seems daft that all governments > of the day cannot see the bleedin’ obvious for the UK to benefit from its > investment in expensively educated medics. I also suspect that many state > educated medics (and others) forget all about repaying government loans > once emigrating and then relocating in the UK. I know of a linguist who > lived in France for a period, returned to England and has never been chased > up on repayment at source from her salary. This must surely be a miniscule > tip of a massive iceberg! Anyway, could be that your emphasis might become > modified to incentivise graduates of all professions to stay in their > mother country as a way of boosting the numbers practising in the medical > profession. If you can’t make good on a problem afflicting medical care > then maybe another approach is called for!

    > Happy New Year to you and yours!

    > Ed > > > https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwiH7_XPqa7RAhUDWRoKHV5mDj8QFggTMAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pulsetoday.co.uk%2Fhome%2Ffinance-and-practice-life-news%2F5000-doctors-a-year-considering-leaving-the-uk-to-emigrate-abroad%2F20007366.article&usg=AFQjCNHzxjFRCKhagJER8ZcdAdzSUyHvhg&sig2=DFXWWZ3k-V5Oam5g-FLRsw > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > Paul Braterman posted: “While NHS Scotland is devolved, immigration policy > is reserved to Westminster. > > > > In memory of his wife Nikki, who died two years ago come March of > complicated leukaemia, despite expert care from a multinational team and > international cooperation to find ” > > > > > > > > > >


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