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Overseas nurses made huge personal sacrifices to strengthen workforce

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International nurses spent up to two years away from their own families after relocating to Swansea Bay during the Covid pandemic.

These are among the huge sacrifices made by more than 130 nurses who were recruited from around the world in the past two years to boost the workforce and improve the level of care during a hugely challenging period Swansea Bay University Health Board have said.

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Many came from India, Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa, spending months – years in some cases – without seeing their families in order to continue their development in nursing in Swansea Bay.

The level of sacrifice has been more than first anticipated for some of the nurses recruited from overseas.

For Susan Mhlahleli, the start of the Covid pandemic coinciding with her arrival from Zimbabwe meant she spent two years away from her husband and two children – one of whom has cerebral palsy – before they finally reunited in March this year.

Susan, who is a staff nurse on Morriston Hospital’s Pembroke Ward, said: “I came in March 2020 right at the start of Covid.

“The plan was for my family to come here two or three months after I arrived, but Covid hit and it wasn’t possible.

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“There was a chance for them to come here, but I didn’t want them to spend 11 hours on a plane in a confined space in the heat of Covid.

“I wanted to progress my career and coming here gave me the experience to work with equipment I had only heard and read about.

“I originally came here wanting to be a perfusionist, but there are so many other opportunities I can now pursue.”

Susan was among the 130 overseas nurses who were invited to an event at the Swansea.com Stadium to show appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice.

An event was held to mark International Nurses Day (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The event was held to mark International Nurses Day, which coincides with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Swansea Bay’s international nurses have predominantly gone into acute care settings in Singleton, Morriston and Neath Port Talbot hospitals.

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At the celebratory event, nurses were treated to an afternoon tea, with a number of senior health board officials in attendance.

Mark Hackett, Swansea Bay UHB Chief Executive, said: “It was a fantastic event. These people have come from the other side of the world to work for Swansea Bay.

“It’s really heart-warming to see people and talk to them about why they wanted to come to Swansea Bay, and what they can contribute.

“We want to see a far more diverse work force where everybody gets an opportunity to advance and succeed in their careers.

“We have a thriving health system and there are huge opportunities for everybody, particularly these nurses who are giving an enormous boost to our workforce.

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“We want to encourage more and more nurses to come here. By giving these international nurses a fantastic experience, what that will do is encourage their friends and colleagues to come to Swansea Bay.

“From our perspective, that will help us in delivering high-quality excellent patient care.”

Nurses came to Swansea from places such as India, Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Gareth Howells, executive director of nursing and patient experience, said: “These nurses have travelled from all parts of the world to come to our health board to help our communities and help us care for people who need it.

“It’s exceptionally brave and we owe them support and respect.

“These nurses complement the quality nurses we already had in the health board.

“They have a high level of experience – they are exceptionally skilled nurses.

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“Whichever country these nurses have come from, they care and want to make a difference here.”

The influx of international nurses has helped fill a big void within the health board’s workforce.

Lynne Jones, heard of nursing education, has played a key role in the recruitment drive of international nurses.

“In what has been a very challenging time for the entire world over the past two years, these nurses have opted to continue their careers in Wales and our health board,” she said.

“They have made a huge contribution to filling vacancies and providing the level of care our patients require.

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“As a health board, we are well aware of the sacrifices they have made to come here. They’ve left their homes, they families and job, which isn’t an easy decision to make.

“We are really pleased with our recruitment of overseas nurses over the past two years, and this event has shown them our appreciation of what they’ve brought to our health board.”

Some nurses have spent months – years in some cases – without seeing their families in order to continue their development in nursing in Swansea Bay. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Other overseas nurses who attended the celebration included Beulah Shenje, who arrived from Zimbabwe in January 2020 and works in cardiology in Singleton Hospital.

She said: “This event made me feel special and appreciated.

“I was honoured the health board took the time to hold this event for us, and for senior figures to be in attendance.

“It means a lot to me and shows they appreciate us.

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“This will certainly encourage more nurses from Africa to come to Swansea and help the health board even more.

“My friends in Zimbabwe have asked about coming here to work because they’ve heard so many good things.

“The exposure to more advanced technology here is a big thing because it helps you develop so you can help more people.

“Everyone shares the same goal here – helping people.”

International nurses spent up to two years away from their own families after relocating to Swansea Bay during the Covid pandemic. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Dolapo Akinnayajo works in Morriston Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit following her arrival from Nigeria in September 2020.

She spoke about the sense of pride felt in working for the health board, and believes her experience will encourage more nurses to pursue a nursing career in Swansea Bay.

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She said: “I feel very proud to work for our health board. I believe we are all making a difference to the community.

“The reception we’ve received as nurses has been amazing. From the first impression onwards, what we’ve received is love and warmth. It has surpassed expectations.

“And now, to have an event like this put on for us international nurses really shows how much we are appreciated.

“I’ve been telling all my friends, family and former colleagues in Nigeria just how lovely Swansea and Wales is.

“It was a massive relocation but it was a huge opportunity.

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“I am from a developing country, but this is a developed country and the bar is set high. There is access to world-class equipment to help people, and it helps develop you in your role too.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Dance

Doctors prescribe dance classes to keep patients on their feet

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet.

Five of the health board’s clusters – groups of GP surgeries working together within a geographical area – are backing the scheme as the exercise to music is proven to aid falls prevention.

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Each class is led by a trained dance teacher with participants encouraged to follow a range of routines, designed to develop their strength and balance, with the option of using a chair for support if their mobility is limited.

The Dance for Health programme is a collaboration between the health board, clusters, local authorities, and Aesop, an arts focused charity.

Alyson Pugh, Programme Manager at Aesop, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the health sector to improve the health and wellbeing of people aged over 65 through the medium of dance.

“During each class participants will move to a variety of music from all around the world. The classes are fun and vibrant, increasing fitness, mobility and strength.

“Afterwards, participants will have a good chance to get to know one another over a cup of tea or coffee. No previous experience is needed, everybody is welcome.”

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So far classes are held in Pontardawe, Morriston, Seven Sisters, Cwmavon and Briton Ferry, Upper Killay, Reynoldston, Mumbles and the Waterfront Museum.

Alyson said: “The health board asked for 12 classes across Swansea Bay and funded the management side while the GP clusters are funding the delivery of the classes. They wanted it to be grass roots up.

“Anyone can walk in but they wanted the main referrals to come from the virtual wards and local area coordinators and social prescribers, a whole community approach.”

Lizzie MacMillan (Image: Swansea Bay HNS)

Dance artist Lizzie MacMillan (left), a development officer for Dance for Health, said: “It’s for older people and people who are struggling a little bit with perhaps balance issues, mobility issues as well, so we are not expecting them to foxtrot along the floor on the first class or anything like that. It builds up over the weeks.

“We start off quite gently, just seeing where everyone is in the class – I like to gauge the class first of all to see if people are having problems with balance or perhaps giddiness or joint problems. I like to get to know each person in the class so that I can look after them and know their capacity for movement.

“We use the chairs quite a lot if someone is unsteady on their feet. They can still do a variation using the chair for support. We also do a standing variation if people are a little fitter or a little bit more able to push themselves further in the class.”

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Over 65s in Swansea Bay are being encouraged to attend dance classes in a bid to keep them on their feet. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mike Garner, Cwmtawe Cluster lead, said: “We are delighted to be participating in this programme as it fits in perfectly with our goal of improving well-being and helping people remain fit and healthy.”

One participant, Pauline Anderson, said: “I’ve been to four or five classes. I thought I would try it to see what it’s like and it’s been very good.

“As you get older you become more immobile. I’ve been struggling with my knees and joints, so I have found it helpful.

“I would advise anyone thinking about it to just come along.”

Another participant, Betty Didcock, said: “I try to keep active as much as I can. I used to enjoy dancing when I was younger. I’ve made friends here. If you’re a bit shy, it’s a wonderful place to come to get used to talking to people. I’m a quiet one. I don’t always do it right but I have a go.”

While Amber Davies said: “I thought I’d come along to see what it was like. It’s important to keep busy and remain active. It’s also a good way of meeting new people.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Swansea

Swansea’s popular land train is back – and you can even take your dog for a ride!

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Taking your family for a day out along Swansea prom? Now your four-legged friend can join in the fun too by hitching a ride on the land train!

Officially known as the Swansea Bay Rider, the 72-seater land train runs along Swansea’s prom from Blackpill Lido to Southend Gardens in Mumbles giving passengers an incredible view of Swansea Bay as they travel along.

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Run by Swansea Council, the land train has been a feature of summer holiday trips for many years – whether it’s to soak up the sights in style, or hop on for a relaxing journey after a day of fun in the sun.

But did you know that dogs are allowed on board too?

The council has highlighted the little known fact that four-legged friends are welcome to ride the land train with their owners, as long as they are wearing a lead and are under control.

With more people than ever taking their dog on holiday or on days out, the land train is another fun activity that all the family can enjoy.

The Swansea Bay Rider is also fully accessible to wheelchair users.

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The land train runs every weekend from 23 April to 4 September, and daily during the school holidays between 30 May and 3 June, and again between Friday 15 July and Sunday 4 September.

The 30 minute ride from Blackpill to Southend runs 7 times a day at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm from Blackpill.

Return journeys from Southend are at 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

Can’t get enough of riding the land-train? How about becoming its driver!

Swansea Council are recruiting a land train driver on a zero hours contract for £19,264 per annum (pro-rata). Applications are open until 24 May on the council’s website.

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(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Books & Literature

Author uncovers the lost tale of Swansea fairground legend

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From Swansea Bliz survivor to fairground strongman – an author discovers his grandfather’s fascinating story as The Welsh Hercules.

In the early half of the 20th Century, Jack Lemm was a household name in Wales. As the Strongman star of fairgrounds and Music Hall, he was famed for his feats of strength, wrestling and his dangerous headlining act, The Whirl of Death.

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Times and entertainment trends change, however, and now the once-famous showman is almost forgotten.

For one man, however, the story of the strongman had special meaning. Glaswegian Steven Blockley had always thought that his Great Grandfather deserved to be better known.

“I never actually met Jack,” he says. “I grew up listening to my uncles and aunts telling fascinating stories about all his incredible achievements around the Swansea area and I always knew I wanted to write a book to bring them to a wider audience. As I dug further into his past, however, even I was surprised by what I found.”

Looking into the background of Jack, Steven and co-author David J Thacker uncovered a rich life story and the perfect antidote to our troubled times.

Steven continues, “Jack lived through some harsh years – he was on HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland in World War 1 and was a survivor of the Swansea Blitz in the Second World War – but his focus was always to put family first and to provide for everyone at home, even if doing so took him away from them.”

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David takes up the story. “Jack came from a Greek family and his given surname was actually Lamnea, but his exploits on stage and at fairs all over the UK, including at Neath, were not always popular, especially with his authoritarian father.

“A lot of the tension in our book comes from that relationship, of a son trying to live up to the ideals of his father.”

The resulting book, The Welsh Hercules, took over a year to research and write but in doing it Steven found a kind of resolution.

“While we were writing the book, I turned 60. At that age, Jack was still doing 40 shows a day at the fairgrounds and even after he retired, he was helping roadworkers outside his house to fix the roads!

“Age really was just a number for him and I think that’s a great attitude to have.”

The Welsh Hercules tells the story of Jack, from his humble beginnings on Swansea Docks through to becoming a renowned boxing coach and fairground star. It takes him through two World Wars, as a survivor of the Battle of Jutland and the Swansea Blitz, and introduces a whole new world of showmen, acrobats and colourful characters.

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But at its heart, Jack’s story is one of family – of the challenges met, the hearts won and the enduring romance of a Showman and his wife.

The Welsh Hercules is available in paperback on Amazon priced at £11.99

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