Zimbabwean retired nurse recalls struggles and joy of moving to UK in the 1980s




Rita Outhwaite

NOTTINGHAM, UK – After migrating to Nottingham from Zimbabwe in the 80s, a retired Nottingham nurse has spoken out about the contributions foreign nurses have made and why they should “never be forgotten.”

74 year-old Rita Outhwaite, who lives in Bilbrough, came to Nottingham in 1982 after meeting her husband, a British man, Eric Outhwaite, who died in 2013.

Mrs Outhwaite told Nottinghamshire Live the struggles of what it was like to be a nurse in the 80s but how she still found Nottingham “peaceful.”

“When I came here I thought it was alright, I found everything easily, the people I met were nice to me, I enjoyed going to the shops, Marks and Spencer and Broadmarsh. Things were cheap and good quality, everything I brought would last”, said the retired nurse.

“When I came to this country to work as a nurse, I already had experience as I was a nurse in Zimbabwe. When I came to England, I brought all my papers, went to the nursing office and they said ‘We’ve got no jobs for you, Rita.’ “

“Two weeks into arriving in England, I was willing to work with two children, but they wouldn’t give me a job as a nurse. Instead, I became a domestic cleaner at Saxondale Hospital in Radcliffe upon Trent, it put me down, I just wanted to nurse and my blood pressure went high.”

Fortunately, Mrs Outwaithe’s luck changed one day as she was given a new job opportunity.

“One day, I was mopping the floors at the hospital and a manager asked me if I wanted to go back to nursing after reading my paperwork. I had to be trained again, and in 1985, I joined the NHS.”

Mrs Outwaithe then lived in the nursing quarter at Saxondale.

Mrs Outwaithe described being a nurse in Nottingham and said: “As staff, we really use look after each other, we worked beautifully together. We worked hard, sometimes it was long hours and we didn’t go home but it would never bother us.”

All the nursing staff got along and were friendly but Mrs Outwaithe remembered that the Jamaican nurses were particularly nice to her.

“Wages weren’t that good but we would always do our best to look after the patients,” she said.

Mrs Outwaithe told Nottinghamshire Live how she couldn’t stand the smell of Dettol used at the hospital, “the Dettol wasn’t smelling like the Dettol today!”, she said but despite the bad smell, the nurses through long hours pulled together.

However, Mrs Outwaithe would then go on to have problems with housing.

“I didn’t find face any discrimination my, kids did in school, they experienced racism, badly, it wasn’t until I was trying to find a new home when I realised that there’s prejudice in this country.

“I got told that I had ‘made myself homeless’ for coming to this country but in my culture, if you’re married, you go back home with your husband”, Mrs Outwaithe said. “I was really, really hurt.”

Mrs Outwaithe and her family then moved to St Anns where her children regularly went to the ACNA centre but Mrs Outwaithe did miss Zimbabwe a lot.

She added: “I missed home and the way I was brought up on the farm but I made friends here in England as a nurse and to this day, my daughter is still friends with the people we made at the nurses headquarters.”

“People should remember us nurses. We worked so hard. As nurses, we didn’t go home sometimes, we did all the hard work. We built up the NHS, foreigners back in the 80s and before. Even though times now are hard because of Covid, I hope this generation opens up their hearts to nursing like we did, Covid shouldn’t put them off, nursing should be in your heart.”

Source: Nottinghamshire Live