Kenyan heart patient in London surprised by Swahili greetings by nurse

Recuperating in the ward of a well-known London hospital, an elderly Kenyan heart patient was pleasantly surprised to be greeted in Kiswahili by a young nurse on her rounds. Nairobi-born Ruth Mwaura is one of the thousands of Kenyans in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

These nurses, doctors and other medical staff are the unsung heroes and heroines of the United Kingdom’s state-run multi-billion-pound health sector. There is a history of Kenyans working in the NHS.

A recent Runnymede Trust report, nurturing the Nation, about the international contribution to the NHS since 1948, notes that the 1968 exodus of thousands of non-citizens who arrived in Britain from Kenya contributed to the growth of the NHS.

Added to this were the new arrivals from Uganda, who were expelled by Idi Amin in 1972, and those who fled Tanzania after Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s controversial 1967 Arusha Declaration and mass nationalisations.


Prominent Kenya-born doctors and nurses who have made their mark in the NHS include Dr Vinod Devalia, a consultant haematologist in Wales, who has worked with double Nobel prize winner Fred Sanger.

There is also Dr Rashmikant Shah, a dentist;  Dr Kiran Patel, the son of Kenyan-born Asian, who is a consultant cardiologist and associate medical director at Heart of England NHS Trust; and former Nairobi-resident Dr Muhammad Yunus Khan, a Consultant at the Royal London Hospital in East London.
Other people who have made a name here include Kenya-born Kuldip Kaur Bharj, a career nurse, who now teaches midwifery at the University of Leeds. The NHS has 660,000 nurses, 90,000 of whom are from abroad. There are 15,000 Kenyan nurses and allied medical staff working in the NHS.

Together with local staff and thousands of other foreign medicos, they work hard to keep the world’s most envied health system ticking. A lot of newly arrived nurses find the UK feel lonely and the country too individualistic — different from the social life they enjoyed among friends and extended family circles.

It is not easy to make friends in the wider society, except within the Kenyan diaspora, but over the years, they overcome these hurdles and settle down, immersed in their work and the small social circles they build.

Thomas Otwum left his job at the Kenyatta National Hospital in 2003 and joined the NHS. Now based at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, he says he enjoys his job.

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