Employment

In pictures: The role Caribbean migrants have played in the NHS, on its 75th anniversary

A new exhibition marks the NHS’s birthday with a series of portraits

The exhibition features the pictures and stories of those who have worked in the NHS over the years, including Clarice Reid. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

The NHS relies on migrant workers, and has done throughout its 75-year history. Around 220,000 foreign workers from over 200 different countries working in our hospitals, caring for patients from birth until death. 

And yet, as the government’s rhetoric becomes increasingly anti-migrant, the NHS is in the midst of a recruitment crisis which could create a gap of 571,000 staff by 2036.

A timely new exhibition reminds us how vital workers coming to Britain from around the world have been to the NHS since it was created in 1948.

Carole Sydney is among those whose portraits feature in the Heart of the Nation exhibition. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

The Heart of the Nation exhibition, put on by the Migration Museum, launched in the Leicester Museum & Art Gallery on 30 June and features the stories and photos of those who came to the UK from the Caribbean and beyond to work as nurses, midwives, mental health professionals and more.

Ionie Richards, producer at the Evewright Arts Foundation, says: “Five years ago, we began collecting stories of elders from the Windrush generation so they could be preserved for future generations. We interviewed six nurses from Essex, from midwives, matrons to sisters – the eldest, Tina Aparicio, is now 98 years old. They all arrived in the UK between 1958 and 1964. 

“The elders talked of their journey, racism, discrimination, and their resilience to dedicate their lives to the National Health Service. We are delighted to share these stories, especially during this Windrush 75th and NHS anniversary year.”

Alongside the portraits, the exhibition features the stories of migrants who worked in the NHS. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

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Don Sydney found the long queues and dark clothes in England a stark difference with his native Trinidad. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

Among those whose pictures will be displayed at the exhibition is Don Sydney, who moved from Trinidad to England in 1961 and worked as a mental health nurse.

“We wanted to improve ourselves, go to the motherland,” he said in an interview with artist Evewright, whose photos make up part of the Heart of the Nation exhibition.

Sydney worked as a mental health nurse after coming to England in 1961. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

Among the culture shocks for Sydney were the dark clothes and long queues. He also spoke of experiencing and overcoming racism while working in hospitals.

“Some patients would say, ‘I don’t want no black…touching me or giving me anything’,” he recalled.

“I made up my mind to plod on regardless and don’t let these things discourage me.”

Lenore Skyes recalled an unconventional love letter from her future husband. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

Lenore Sykes, another NHS worker featured in the exhibition, came from Trinidad in 1966, and met her husband while studying for medical exams.

She recalled him handing her a bundle of papers on jaundice, a topic they were studying at the time.

“I have a way whenever I have a letter, I always turn the letter to read the back to see. So I turned it and I saw: ‘do you know that I love you’. And that was it,” Sykes said.

“So we got married within six months, the 18th of January 1969.”

The love letter worked – they were married within six months. Image: © Evewright Arts Foundation

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Nell Green, who came to the UK from Jamaica in 1962, recalled defying her father – who wanted her to become a teacher. She had originally wanted to become a pharmacist.

“One of my friends died in childbirth in Jamaica, and that was when I changed my mind that I was going to become a midwife,” she said. “My grandfather told me it was a dirty profession when I told him I changed my mind.”

These Windrush NHS stories and portraits feature in Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS, a new national touring exhibition from the Migration Musuem, now open at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery until 29 October. Free admission – no booking. The exhibition can also be explored online at: heartofthenation.co.uk

To find out more about the Evewright Arts Foundation, visit www.evewrightarts.org. To listen to the audio interviews, go to https://soundcloud.com/essex-record-office/sets/evewright-artsfoundation

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