Dimov Family

© Christian Sinibaldi

My wife Donia and I had left Bulgaria with our young son Tsanko back in 1995 to settle in New Zealand, where we lived for nine years and where our daughter Stefanie was born. I had studied Speech-Language Therapy and Psychology at the University of Sofia and had the opportunity to join a neuro-rehabilitation centre in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, before developing my career in the New Zealand health system and later on studying health service management at Massey University.

We moved to the UK in 2004. My brother Doytchin and his wife Galina, both physicians, had moved to the UK directly from Bulgaria a few years earlier. We had all been attracted by the professional opportunities in the UK, and the NHS was a natural choice and a magnet for the three of us. My wife and I were also excited by the prospect of being closer to family both in the UK and Bulgaria, and to Europe.

I arrived in the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, while my brother and sister-in-law had arrived earlier via a different route – Galina on a grant from the EU TEMPUS programme. They both started their careers in the NHS on the Royal College of Physicians programme for specialist training for visiting doctors.

There was significant anxiety in my family as we had to leave our home in Christchurch, New Zealand, which we loved, and all our possessions, to move to the UK without guaranteed jobs and with a "No recourse to public funds" stamp in our passports.

My wife and children left a bit earlier and stayed at our parents’ home in Bulgaria, while I finalised our departure from New Zealand and followed them to Bulgaria. My wife and I then came to the UK, without the kids, to find ourselves jobs and a home. It helped that we could stay initially at my brother’s home in Leeds. My wife, the children and myself ended up being separated from each other, one way or another, for a period of about six months, which we all found very difficult as we hadn’t been apart for more than a few days until then. My brother recalls some of our most challenging experiences here relating to the bureaucratic procedures related to the right to remain and work in the UK before becoming citizens.

We have all settled very well in the UK now and home feels here for all of us, despite maintaining strong connections with family and friends back in Bulgaria. We have spread between London and Leeds and frequently visit each other and spend time together as a family. My children Tsanko (31) and Stefanie (27) have now also joined the NHS family.

We all have different recollections, because of the different routes to getting here. We were excited to be in the UK and to be planning the next phase of our lives. My daughter, who was 8 at the time we moved, remembers a feeling of happiness for our family being back together and learning to understand that our lives weren’t going to be the same as they were in New Zealand.

There was the shock at just how many people there were everywhere – especially when visiting London. We had already been through one significant culture shock after moving from Bulgaria to New Zealand. Moving to the UK after that left us feeling that things were both the same or similar and different at the same time. England felt busier, more crowded, more formal and corporate in many ways. My brother recalls the family feeling enthusiastic and the children settling quickly at school.

From a professional point of view, I was impressed by the scale of the NHS. I worked as a locum initially and remember feeling lost in the endless labyrinths of buildings and corridors of the bigger hospitals.

My brother and his wife had moved from a university hospital in Bulgaria and recall being surprised with how old the hospital buildings were in the UK and how basic the accommodation for nurses and doctors was. The main cultural challenge for them was the completely different organisation of the work of the doctors compared to other countries in Europe.

People’s politeness and kindness, country walks and Sunday pub lunches come up high on the list of easiest things to adapt to for all of us. My brother remembers people being too polite to express disagreement in a conversation, making it difficult to navigate interactions in this new social group. There is also certain formality and order in social and family relations here that took a bit longer to get used to – the need to book a get together with your friends weeks, if not months, in advance.

Having grown up in New Zealand, our children recall struggling with the fact that none of their friends ever went bare foot… anywhere… even in summer! They also remember feeling less free to run around and play anywhere or to walk to school without supervision. We have retained the feeling of how important family bonds are and continue to mark Christmas and Easter in the tradition and custom we have been brought up with. We also try to maintain the spontaneity in our contacts with friends and family – the doors of our homes are always open and the table is set within minutes, regardless of who the guests are.

We are all happy in our new homes and don’t feel home sick as such, but do miss certain aspects of life back in Bulgaria. These include the four distinct seasons – freezing winters and long, hot summers, days at the beach and walks by the sea –we are all from the city of Varna on the Black Sea coast – ripe, sweet, juicy tomatoes and traditional feta pastries (banitsa).

I presently work in NHS England as Head of Community Health Improvement. My son Tsanko is a Senior Implementation Manager in the Greener NHS programme, while my daughter Stefanie is a Senior Programme Manager in the National Outpatients Transformation Programme, also in NHS England. My brother Dr Doytchin Dimov is a consultant physician in respiratory diseases, while his wife Professor Doctor Galina Velikova-Dimova is a professor in psychosocial and medical oncology. They are both at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

We all feel grateful and humbled to be part of such a great institution. I feel privileged to have been able to work in different roles and in many NHS organisations, both delivering direct care to patients and planning or coordinating important aspects of the way the NHS operates. My son, daughter and I all feel excited and motivated for being involved in the development and implementation of key policies and improvements transforming the NHS and the way care is delivered, making it more responsive, efficient and sustainable. For me personally, the highlight of my journey was the moment I joined the team at NHS England to be the community health lead for the national review undertaken by Lord Carter in 2018 looking at operational productivity of community and mental health services, which produced many important recommendations reflected in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Our extended family has long been part of the delivery of health and care. My brother, Dr Doytchin Dimov is a third generation physician, our mother was a pharmacist, while Prof Dr Galina Velikova’s mother was a midwife. It has been a real privilege for all of us to feel part of the NHS’ journey and to be able to contribute with our skills, knowledge and passion to its continuing improvement.