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.
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.”
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.
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