Liz Brown can be easily identified by her British nurse uniform. She is a Registered General Nurse (RGN) in the UK as well as being, as far as she is aware, the only Briton registered with the Colegio Oficial de Enfermería in Malaga.
“It was a very long process to get registered here in Malaga,” explains Liz , who had wanted to be a nurse since she was three. She adds that she got some “funny looks” at the beginning, but now that she goes to the same hospital and health centres as an interpreter, she is well-known among staff.
The nurse, who specialises in care for the elderly, has lived in the village of Cómpeta with her 18-year-old son, George, for ten years and has been registered as a nurse in Malaga for three. For a number of years Liz was travelling back and forth to continue working at the University Hospital of Lancaster. She also ran private residential and nursing homes as well as a community care service in the north west of England.
However, inevitably this became exhausting and complicated, so she decided that she and George, who has Asperger's, would live in Spain permanently. The pair were already very familiar with the country as they had been coming on holiday since George was two.
Liz wanted to continue in a field she knew well and recognised a demand for English-speaking carers on the eastern Costa del Sol: “There is an increasing population of aging foreign people here who don't have family or partners to care for them.”
The experienced nurse describes cases of elderly Brits who were returning to the UK in the hope that they would get the help they required through the NHS. “People just think that they will fall back into the system but the NHS is extremely stretched and the care is basic and it's definitely not the case that they will receive what they expect to.”
What's more, according to Liz, while the Spanish social security system runs in a similar way to the UK's NHS, there are some stark differences. “The home care service here is even more limited than in the UK, but the service is more efficient with less waste,” she says, also explaining that Spanish families tend to be more involved in patient care whereas in the UK there is an understanding that hospitals will provide all the care.
A network of carers
Since Liz started working full-time in the Axarquía under the banner of 'The English Nurse' (she works mainly in Nerja as that is where the biggest British population is based in the east of Malaga), she has taken on 14 carers to help manage the workload. All carers have English as a first language but most speak a good degree of Spanish and or other languages.
“It is important to speak English as people want to be able to communicate in their own language, or a language they are very comfortable in when they are not well and carers need to be able to pick up colloquial English and accents,” Liz says, adding that all carers have a UK NVQ qualification in care work.
The English Nurse has more plans for the future which include the creation of an appliance which patients can plug into a socket at home which sends a message to the carer's mobile phone to let them know that they are up and about each morning. “Many people live on their own and don't want to have to rely on neighbours to check that they are OK every day,” explains Liz, who plans to train more carers in autumn to meet the growing demand for her service, as well as offering a holiday home-cum-respite care for people who are not in permanent residential care.