Celebrating Black Healthcare Professionals - Black History Month
In the wake of the global pandemic, 2020 has been testament to how essential the NHS is to the fabric of the UK. Here at UIA Mutual we are so grateful to our frontline services and all the efforts they make to keep us safe and well. In honour of Black History Month, we would like to shine a spotlight on some of the amazing contributions the black community has made to the NHS and healthcare.
Mary Seacole is best known for the ‘British Hotel’ she ran at the frontline of the Crimean War. Born during an era of slavery in Jamaica, to a Scottish lieutenant in the British Army and her free black mother, Mary’s journey to the frontlines was sadly framed with racial prejudice.
Mary travelled the world combining European medical techniques with her traditional medicinal background to nurse victims of cholera and yellow fever. On the outbreak of the Crimean War, Mary came to London offering her services to the British War Office to join Florence Nightingale and her team tending to injured British soldiers. However, she was refused. Undeterred Mary funded her own trip to the Crimea and established the British Hotel, providing care for injured and recovering soldiers. Mary was even able to tend to the wounded on the battlefield. The care she provided earned her the nickname Mother Seacole among the soldiers.
In the years following her death in 1881, Mary’s story was largely forgotten. More recently interest in her story has had a resurgence. After being largely ignored by the history books, Mary was voted the Greatest Black Briton in 2004. In 2016 a statue of Mary Seacole was unveiled at St Thomas’ Hospital on London’s Southbank. Her legacy is notably honoured in the NHS Mary Seacole leadership programme.
The Windrush Generation
From the conception of the NHS, the UK has relied on the continuous contribution of black doctors, nurses, & auxiliary staff. Following the Second World War the UK health and labour ministries launched recruitment campaigns to fill the shortages in the health service, encouraging mass immigration from the countries across the Commonwealth. As a result, thousands of migrant healthcare professionals, particularly nurses, were dispersed to hospitals across the country. The majority of professionals came from the Caribbean, Malaysia, Mauritius, as well as other parts of the world.
On June 22nd 1948, the Empire Windrush landed at the port of Tilbury carrying passengers from the Caribbean including Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Many of these passengers were among the first to work in the NHS, launching two weeks later on the July 5th. The arrival of nurses and new trainees to help bolster the workforce in the UK was crucial. Britain simply did not have the workforce required to run the service. The arrival of the Windrush, and subsequent migrants, helped to mark a new chapter in both the birth of the NHS and the growth of multicultural Britain.
As the granddaughter of two Jamaican migrants, I’ve heard the sacrifices that were made and the hardships experienced by the Windrush Generation, such as racial disparity and struggles for equality and inclusion. My grandmother proudly worked as part of the catering teams at Nottingham City Hospital & Queens Medical Centre Hospital for many years. I am incredibly proud of her and my Grandfather.
From historical figures, to building the NHS, to the current workforce battling COVID-19 on the frontline, black healthcare professionals continue to play an essential role in the health of our nation. Today, the NHS is the biggest employer of people from a black, asian and ethnic minorities in Europe, with 20.7% of the NHS workforce represented by over 200 nationalities.* One in five NHS nurses and midwives are black, asian or from an ethnic minority. If you are interested in hearing more about what it is like working in the NHS, have a listen to the Royal College of Nurses’ ‘Nursing While Black’ podcast series. What better way to understand first-hand experience, than straight from the people on the frontline?
We are incredibly proud to service our members working in the NHS and public services. Since 1890 UIA Mutual has been providing great value, high quality insurance to trade union members and their families. That’s 130 years of providing peace of mind when you need it most. Already a union member? Why not get a quote.