BME trailblazers in the NHS

young doctors

24 / 9 / 2014 Midnight

The NHS is the single largest employer of black and minority ethnic (BME) people in England and has been heavily dependent upon the services of professionals from all parts of the globe since its inception. 

As part of our BME trailblazer series, and to mark the 65th anniversary of the NHS, we have published the profiles of 12 leading BME clinicians and managers. Together they have blazed a trail, inspiring future generations, and helped to shape and influence developments in clinical and management practice during the last 65 years.

We hope you will join us in saluting the achievements of these exceptional individuals:

Daphne Steele

Guyanese-born Daphne Steele made headlines around the world when she became the UK’s first black hospital matron in 1964. For the time, Daphne’s achievement was nothing short of amazing.

Former Deputy Director of Nursing at the Department of Health, Nola Ishmael, described Daphne as a 'first' who led with dignity and determination.“ She helped to shape aspirations for BME nurses across the profession who sought to follow in her footsteps."

Daphne was born in 1929 in the Essequibo region of Guyana, where she grew up as the eldest of nine children. While her mother looked after the house and the children, her father was a pharmacist who travelled regularly around the country.

Perhaps it was her father’s career in the health industry that inspired her career path – young Daphne grew up with aspirations to become a doctor. 

Read her profile.

Owen Williams

As chief executive of Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust, Owen Williams is responsible for providing healthcare to 458,000 people in the trust’s catchment area.

For Owen, leadership is getting as many people as possible to feel passionate about providing the best care for local people, and for them to have the skills and competencies to make a difference.

“There are not many major changes that I think one person can do on their own,” he points out. “I often think it’s about getting the combined
brainpower of all the people I work with focused on meeting the key challenges, and that’s where you start to see real change taking place and at pace too.”

Read his profile

Lord Victor Adebowale, Baron Adebowale of Thornes in the County of West Yorkshire

Bus drivers and hospital porters top the list of heroes for Lord Victor Adebowale. The down-to-earth chief executive of Turning Point, a health and social care organisation delivering NHS services with a turnover of about £100 million, says it’s the people he works with, especially those who engage with the public and who “give a damn”, who really inspire him.

Turning Point offers services and support to people with complex needs, such as mental health issues, alcohol and drugs misuse and learning disabilities. Lord Victor has been chief executive of the social enterprise since 2001, employing over 2600 staff in over 200 locations. He is also a member of the NHS Future Forum on integrated services and sits on the board of NHS England.

Read his profile

Cecilia Anim

Cecilia Anim is deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and also works as a clinical nurse specialising in family planning and sexual and reproductive health.

As a child in Ghana, when asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she replied that she wanted to be a “big wife”, meaning to say midwife. Being a midwife is considered to be a prestigious career in Ghana and this career choice perfectly complemented her passion for caring for others.

Her mother ran a shop selling materials such as towels and wax prints, while her father worked as a manager for a large textiles firm. He later became secretary to the trade union representing railwaymen. As Cecilia puts it: “Trade unions run in the family!”

Read her profile

Raj Jain

Raj Jain has big ambitions for NHS services and the tenacity to see them through. Moving from HR and management roles to his current role as chief executive officer of Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, he believes the key ingredients for success at this level are “compassion, a drive for excellence and hard work”. His approach is certainly seeing results. Last year the hospital became the Health Service Journal’s Provider of the Year – Raj calls it “the Oscar of the hospital world” – which he sees as a testament to the organisation’s focus on patient and family care.

Read his profile

Clive Clarke

Clive Clarke has always had a strong sense of responsibility towards his community and as   deputy chief executive at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust he is determined to use his position to inspire.

While his top priority is ensuring his clinicians have the resources they need to provide a high quality service in an increasingly difficult economic climate, he continues to “put something back” as an adviser to the Sheffield African Caribbean Mental Health Association and a governor on his son’s school board. 

Read his profile

Barbara Burford

Barbara Burford was a lifelong champion of equality and diversity in the health service and has directly inspired hundreds of health professionals and managers through her work. Throughout her career, Barbara worked closely with the NHS, government departments, minority groups and public sector organisations to raise the profile of equality and diversity in the NHS. She was presented with an honorary doctorate in 2001 from Middlesex University in North London, in recognition of her national achievements in the equality and diversity field.

Read her profile

Professor Justus Akinsanya 

Professor Akinsanya’s contribution to nursing education is nothing short of pioneering. From his beginnings as a black male nurse in a female-dominated profession, to his ground-breaking concept of bio-nursing and his prolific academic career, his considerable influence can still be felt in the healthcare field today.

Read this profile 

Sir Netar Mallick

Sir Netar Mallick's tremendous progress in renal medicine was recognised with a knighthood in 1998 and, in 2003, became the first holder of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Asians (Jewel Awards).

He describes his career trajectory as something that would not be possible now, saying that where he started was not where he finished. Throughout his career he has worked to change and develop systems for the benefit of patients, spurred on by a belief in “fighting your corner” and what he describes as “bloodymindedness.”

Read this profile

Dame Karlene Davis

Dame Karlene is also one of the most senior black women in the health profession today.

She believes that with prominence comes opportunity and she feels immensely privileged to have access to arenas that she would not have otherwise had, although she feels that it is a huge responsibility because people have huge expectations of her. Brought up in Jamaica in a small town with her mother, who was a teacher, her policeman father and her younger brother, Dame Karlene was fascinated by the work that local public health nurses did in her community.

Read this profile

Professor Elizabeth Anionwu CBE

Born in Birmingham in 1947, Professor Anionwu identifies herself as Irish / Nigerian and started work for the NHS as a school
nurse assistant in Wolverhampton at the age of 16. Elizabeth has put a substantial amount of her life into her work as a nurse, health visitor and tutor, working with black and minority ethnic communities in London.

Read his profile

Professor Lord Ara Darzi

Lord Darzi was born in Iraq, to Armenian parents displaced by the 1915 genocide. The family later emigrated to Ireland. He came to Britain for a year’s medical training, never left, and is now widely celebrated for his personal commitment to improving the NHS. 

Read this profile

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