This summer not only marks the 70th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush, but also the creation of the National Health Service (NHS).
NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland and the Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland were established together in 1948 as one of the major social reforms following the Second World War. The founding principles were that services should be comprehensive, universal and free for all at the point of delivery.
In recent times the NHS has come under major scrutiny due to several economic, social and political pressures. These challenges include both a growing and ageing population, evolving healthcare needs such as antibiotic resistance, an increase in cases of obesity and diabetes, and the list goes on. It is undeniable that Britain’s free healthcare system is criminally underfunded and unsupported, resulting in several cases of negligence and increasing frustrations. Admittedly, and in most cases quite rightfully, we all love to have a good moan about the NHS.
However, despite these challenges, I am still grateful for the NHS as an institution and the amazing staff who care for us from birth to death, through sickness and through health. Since its founding in 1948, people from BAME backgrounds have played a critical part in shaping the health service. Like so much of post-war Britain, the NHS was built by immigrants and quite frankly would not be present today without them. NHS workers from the Windrush generation should especially be celebrated as they arrived to work for the understaffed NHS and were met with hostility and ungratefulness. When they first arrived, some patients didn’t want to be treated by them, but through hard work and dedication, generations of BAME NHS workers have proven their importance in the running of the NHS, and have become part and parcel of the fabric of the institution. Not only in medical and nursing positions but as cleaners, cooks, porters and loads of other jobs.
I personally gained a new-found appreciation for the NHS when I moved to the other side of the Atlantic in 2015. The US is recognised for being a world leader in many areas, some of which they can take pride in, and others are just bloody embarrassing – one of these being its world leadership in health inequality. When I moved out here I quickly realised that I had to avoid falling sick at all costs. And if I did find myself feeling a little off, Google would double up as my GP. Having to fork out seventy dollars to simply breathe the same air as a doctor, hundreds of dollars in the case I ever had to call an ambulance, and thousands of dollars if I were (God forbid) to get critically ill was an incredible shock to the system when you’re used to being treated for FREE whether you stub your toe or need a hip replacement.
Living in NYC has made me incredibly proud to be from a country that offers free healthcare to all. Despite it having its issues it should be a treasured national resource. I’m also incredibly proud to know people within my community have built it to become what it is today. The NHS would grind to a standstill without the contribution of its BAME staff. A fifth of nurses and midwives and a third of doctors are from BAME backgrounds. One of the institutions that is valued most has been sustained by people whom several Brits, unfortunately, value the least.
Even as we are more dissatisfied than ever with the way it is run, let’s not forget that the NHS is founded upon principles of compassion and equality.
Seventy years after the Windrush docked and the NHS was created, let’s celebrate all the Black Brits past and present that have worked for the institution. Without you, the health service would simply not be the success that it is.