Wind in their sails

Paul Deemer


Paul Deemer, head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers gives his thoughts on the 70th anniversary of Windrush.

The 22 June is Windrush Day and the 70th anniversary of the arrival of a ship filled with over 500 people from another part of the world looking to settle in the UK. I won’t go into the history in detail as this is much better documented by those who know much more about this than I do, or ever will. But it’s essentially a day to celebrate, and to recognise and thank all of those people, alongwith subsequent generations, for coming to help create our NHS.

But the thing that struck me as I reflect on this, is how our world and news is still dominated by ships (and boats) and the human cargo that they often carry.

The history of the world is one of transient populations, as is the history of the NHS. Indeed, the whole basis of the NHS, serving a growing population is of a transient service dependent as ever on staff from outside the UK. Currently 23% of NHS staff have an ethnic background, 170,000 European Economic Area (EEA) nationals work in health and social care roles across the UK and 62,000 work in the NHS.

Whilst there are those people who rely on the NHS day in and day out, the majority of people (hopefully) will only have to deal with the NHS as and when they need. Whether it is when they have a minor complaint (when they might visit their GP) or when they have a major accident or situation (such as the birth of a child), the relationship will be intensive for a short period of time and non-existent, or peripheral for long periods outside that. Even for those with long term conditions, if the systems are good, and as the technology improves and we move to managing our own health more and more, then this will become more and more the case. So transience is almost the norm now for the NHS.

But the critical element of this transient relationship that we, as citizens of the UK share with the NHS is that we know, and we know almost instinctively that when we need it, the NHS will be there. This was also the case for many of those that docked at Tilbury who were among the first to go and work in the newly formed National Health Service which launched just two weeks later. That was, if some of the stories from that original Windrush generation are true, very much their experience. Namely, a warm, welcoming environment where they were valued for the skills that they brought and cherished because of their passion and commitment to caring for their patients.

So let’s once again thank the Windrush generation for what they gave us and celebrate their contribution to health and social care, their skills and talent helped lay the foundations for today’s NHS.

Last week, black and ethnic minority NHS staff were honoured in the NHS Windrush 70 Awards, including a mother and daughter who had dedicated their working lives to the NHS. When the Windrush generation came across to the UK in 1948, many of them probably thought that their relationship with the NHS would be a transient one. For many, that wasn’t the case, they settled and stayed working for many years. Realistically, the NHS will always require people from outside the UK to bring their skills, talents and passion for great healthcare to this country. May there always be wind in their sails!

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