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Heroic Filipino nurses at the forefront of UK’s Covid-19 response

By Gene Alcantara, UK

LONDON --It is hard not to find a Filipino doctor, nurse or any other heath practitioner in most medical facilities in the world today. Selfless Filipino health workers report day in and day out in the world’s busiest hospitals and healthcare facilities from the United States to Zimbabwe that it is hard to imagine a world without them in the health sector.

The onset of the coronavirus outbreak in January this year has only made their work more difficult in countries where they are based. Not a few tears are shed watching our brave health heroes, Filipino nurses abroad right in the frontline of the heroic fight to stem the onslaught of the new coronavirus on populations not just in the United Kingdom but also elsewhere. The danger that Covid-19 posed to the society is so huge it cuts across status, rank, wealth, color or belief.

In the United Kingdom, Filipino nurses have been coming for decades to join the National Health Service (NHS), the earliest nurses coming to the UK’s shores from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Their heyday came in the time of late Philippine Ambassador Cesar Bautista who negotiated for the mass recruitment of nurses which has brought around 60,000 nurses and their families to the country from 1996 to 2000.

Through the years, the increase in the demand for nurses continues despite the labor migration of European nurse professionals to the UK. Thousands of nurses entered the country from outside the continent mainly from the Philippines but also from India, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Zimbabwe, and other countries. A BBC report in May 2019 mentioned that a total of 10,719 nurses were recruited from the Philippines followed by India with 5,656 nurses. As with doctors, India topped the number with 12,610, and 4,659 from Pakistan. There were also doctors that came into the country from Egypt and Nigeria.

Filipino nurses and healthcare workers are rightly proud of working in the NHS in their role as front liners in the fight against the coronavirus and are thus recognized by the British government. As the Covid-19 pandemic even puts more strain on the capacity of the NHS, it is expected that it is only a matter of time before the system is overwhelmed. Even now, the government, scientists, medical professionals, schools, private companies, and individuals are helping urgently to prepare the NHS for the worst in taking in the seriously ill and the fatalities that may follow.

Even knowing this, Facebook posts from UK-based Filipino nurses display so much pride in how they are making a difference and facing the biggest ever challenge to their careers in the health sector. Even with the knowledge of the danger they now face, including that of their families, they are determined to be part of the effort to save thousands of lives.

Cielo or Chie Austero Romero wrote in a post:

“GOD BLESS AND PROTECT US and my husband are now prepared for a war against an unseen enemy. With God, we will conquer all.

Romero is a Clinical Site Practitioner (CSP) and works as Site Manager on duty at one of the biggest NHS hospitals in Southeast England. Her husband, Will Romero works as an Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP) in the same hospital. They have two kids and with the youngest at only 4, they take turns in taking care of him.

“Minsan nga naiiyak ako sa mga nangyayari ngayon, pero wala kaming magagawa. We have to be brave for all the patients po to make a difference and para matulungan sila and to conquer this pandemic. Vocation talaga ang aming profession, siguro magtrabaho na lang kami para makatulong,” Romero said.

Irene Sayson Quijano-Reed is a Band 6 Theatre Practitioner Nurse in South London. In her Facebook post, she wrote,

“I am so proud to say that I work for the #NHS and stand side by side with my colleagues all over the world to help give the best possible service we can, to help save and improve lives...I’m sure you are all seeing so many different stories in the news at the moment, which is causing people to get anxious and worried BUT the thing to remember is that we have one of the best health services in the world and if we follow their advice and all pull together,we will get through this!”

Quijano-Reed is married to Simon Reed, a psychotherapist at another hospital. They have a 10-year old son, Zack.

She ended her post with an exhortation to everyone:

“Please remember to look out for each other more than ever before, with a special focus on those in need and the vulnerable. Much love to you all and stay safedon’t forget to wash our hands more often and lastly PRAY.”

Ruby Sheridan is a Healthcare Assistant in a hospital in south London since 2000 and a Filipino community leader. She has been blessed with seven (7) children and seven (7) grandchildren.

She posted a very positive profile picture declaring she was proud to work for the NHS.

However, she worries about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that seems to be prevalent across the NHS. Previously, all health personnel was told to wear full PPE, including respiratory protection masks, visors, surgical gowns, and gloves. Recently Public Health England revised the order by recommending the use of only the standard surgical face mask, short gloves and a plastic apron which the nurses think are not enough for their protection.

She has this advice to the people,

“Magpakatatag lang po tayo, huwag bumitaw sa Diyos. Dahil marami na po tayong nalagpasang mga sakuna at kalamidad at sa panahon pong halos wala na tayong nakikitang pag-asa? Eto pa rin po tayo nananatiling matatag.”

Sheridan added that,

“Lakasan lang po ang loob at be proud of who and what we are. At kung kailangan po nating tumulong at may maitutulong naman tayo? Di po sana tayo mag-atubiling magbigay tulong sa kapwa natin. At lastly, sama sama po tayong ipagdasal ang lahat ng mga Doktor na naghahanap at umiimbento ng mabisang lunas laban sa Ncovid-19. At maging responsible din po tayo na mapangalagaan ang ating mga sarili ng sa gayon makatulong po tayo sa iba.”

Edelyn Padlan lives in London with her husband, Giovanni Padlan and their two children. She works as an Emergency Nurse in a large university hospital in the East End. Her husband Giovanni also works in the same hospital, taking on the day shift, while she takes on the night shift so they do not worry about childcare. She posted a quote on her FB page:

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something else is important than fear. (A. Redmoon).”

She got a lot of comments to this post. To one, she replied, “Keep yourself safe. Nag-umpisa na ma-overwhelm ang NHS. No more beds.”

And to another, she wrote, “Don’t panic. Kaya natin ito (2 arm muscle icon) Stay strong and healthy.”

Looking around at a couple of supermarkets with empty shelves in Kilburn, NW London as people resorted to panic-buying to prepare for a potential two-week isolation, I meet my niece, Nicca Alcantara who was also shopping that day. Like any Filipino living and working in the UK now, she feels the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on her life.

Alcantara, who also works as a nurse at a private hospital in Central London, has this to say.

In his latest briefing to the media, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he hopes that the tide will eventually turn in three months if everyone followed the government’s advice. With our Filipino nurses and healthcare workers at the helm, it is hoped that turning the tide would be an easier feat.

#COVID19 #coronavirusupdate

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