England’s most senior internationally educated nurse has revealed she was left trapped in freezing accommodation with no lights or support when she arrived in the UK.

Group Chief Nurse, Arlene Wellman MBE, St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group (gesh), had come from Trinidad on a Friday night in 1996 and had no one to turn to all weekend.

She said: “When I arrived it was freezing cold and I was taken to hospital accommodation. It was a Friday evening and the accommodation offices were closed, so I had the entire weekend in a cold flat with no lights as the previous tenants had taken the bulbs with them and I didn’t know where to get replacements.

“On Monday I met with the overseas coordinator who was also a nurse and she was amazing and took me under her wing.”

Arlene Wellman was made a MBE in 2022

Fortunately, things have improved for international nurses arriving in the UK and now a groundbreaking app produced by gesh offers them even more support.

‘Ask Aunty’ pairs newly arrived staff with a colleague who can help them settle into life in the UK.

Arlene said: “Things are much better for international nurses now but we wanted to develop ‘Ask Aunty’ as there is still room to improve their experience.

“They will be paired with an ‘aunt’ or an ‘uncle’ who can help them to integrate to life in the UK as well as life in the NHS.”

The mother-of four and grandmother continued: “I remember being told when I was coming to the UK that I need to get a duvet. I was like, what’s a duvet? I’m from Trinidad and we don’t have duvets.”

Arlene Wellman is the Group Chief Nursing Officer

Thanks to the internet, people will know what a duvet is – but there are lots of other things they will be unaware of which is why the app will make their lives easier.

Arlene said: “There are also things like how to open a bank account or how to find somewhere to rent that some international nurses won’t know how to do, so we can help them.

“The NHS is really dependent on our international nurses to help care for our patients and this app will really help them navigate life in the UK and at work.”

Ahead of International Nurses Day on Sunday, Arlene said it is important to recognise what international nurses bring to the NHS and to give them support in and out of work.

She said: “The theme for this year’s International Nurses Day is ‘Our Nurses. Our Future. The economic power of care’ and international nurses are an economic power of care.

Arlene Wellman during a visit to St George’s by MP Maria Caulfield

“They also bring a heritage and an identity that they are able to share with people and the patients they care for.”

There are 781 internationally trained nurses working for gesh who are all offered a support package.Arlene said: “I think we as a Group are retaining international nurses well because we are ensuring that they have as many opportunities to progress and to grow alongside UK-trained staff.

“For instance we have an international nurse that arrived last year and has already been promoted because of her knowledge, skills, and ability.

“International nurses are not limited in what they can achieve in the NHS. They can access continuous professional development from the day they start.

Arlene Wellman advocates equality and diversity

“We recognise the knowledge, skills and experience that international nurses have and bring to the NHS.”

A few weeks ago, St George’s joined Epsom and St Helier by being awarded the NHS Pastoral Care Quality Award which recognises the high-quality care given to internationally educated nurses and midwives.

Meanwhile, internationally-trained nurses working at Epsom and St Helier shared their experiences and exchange stories at a special networking event. The ‘meet and greet’ was held to ‘empower and support’ the nurses and was deemed a huge success.

Arlene said: “In the Caribbean you don’t have a surgical nurse, a paediatric nurse and other types of nurses you just have a nurse.

“So if you wanted to excel in your profession the NHS structure gives you opportunity to do that by helping you with your training and your continuous professional development.

“Becoming an international nurse for the NHS is the opportunity to develop yourself and make a better life for your family.”

To apply for a nursing or midwifery job at St George’s visit http://jobs.stgeorges.nhs.uk/#!/job_list/s1/Nursing_Midwifery and visit http://jobs.epsom-sthelier.nhs.uk/#!/job_list/s1/Nursing_Midwifery? for nursing and midwifery job vacancies at Epsom and St Helier.