We are definitely living in crazy times at the moment, the current COVID19 pandemic really has reshaped our world forever.
Most importantly, it has finally given our public healthcare workers the limelight they deserve. For years our healthcare workers, in my opinion have been overlooked and undervalued by not just us, but our government and our country.
As they have literally been risking their lives every day by just going to work, I feel it is important to highlight the history of their contribution to healthcare in Britain.
Contrary to popular belief, BAME healthcare workers have been around way before the Windrush era. Although many were part of the ‘Windrush’ generation, coming from the Caribbean to the UK from 1948 to 1971 to work in the newly established NHS, they were not the first arrivals. One of the most early and prominent BAME nurses in history was Mary Seacole (although she did not receive as much accolades and praise as that of her white counterpart, Florence Nightingale).
The British-Jamaican made a monumental impact aiding soldiers during the Crimean War.
Born in 1805, Seacole acquired knowledge of medicine from her homeland in the Caribbean. Having been rejected by the War Office to join the nursing contingent. She travelled independently and set up the, “British Hotel,” behind the lines to tend those wounded in the battlefields.
Comparatively, Nightingale’s military hospital at Scutari was located over a sewer which may have caused further problems for already ill soldiers.
Seacole became very popular among service personnel, who even raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war. She also visited the battlefield on at least two occasions.
Nonetheless, after her death in 1881 aged 75, she was largely forgotten about for almost a century, in what has become typical fashion for black women of note.
She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. Additionally in 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton. Despite her contributions, some present-day Nightingale supporters have questioned the accuracy of her involvement in the war. The composition of a statue of her in St Thomas’ Hospital in 2016, which described her as a “pioneer nurse” sparked a lot of controversy and opposition from the same Nightingale supporters.
Mary Seacole was a pivotal example that BAME workers were just as capable and resourceful in the healthcare workforce as their white counterparts. Other, less well-known black nurses include Annie Brewster, a nurse originally from St. Vincent, moved to London as a child in the 1860s, and worked at the London hospital in Whitechapel from 1881 for 20 years until her death in 1902, aged 42.
Before the National Health Service was founded in 1948, many West African and West Indian women trained as nurses in British hospitals during World War II. These included Princess Ademola, daughter of the Alake of Abeokuta, the principal chief in northern Nigeria. She was based at Guy’s Hospital in London.
Today, one in every five nurses and midwives are from BAME backgrounds, rising to much higher levels in some regions and parts of the country, such as London.
It’s a shame that our current global crisis was the wakeup call needed to finally give these healthcare workers the acknowledgment they deserve.
The NHS owes a great debt to our migrant workers.
Unlike their predecessors, those who have come from African, Indian and Caribbean backgrounds should never be forgotten when discussing those who have aided the public in overcoming this hard time.
To all of you, thank you for helping to keep us safe.