There is much to celebrate over the next 2 months as the NHS reaches its 75th anniversary in July, and in June we mark another 75th anniversary, the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock with hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean islands. It was a moment that helped to define modern Britain and Windrush Day on 22 June, celebrated since 2018, celebrates the contribution and achievements of the ‘Windrush generation’, their children and their grandchildren.
The Windrush generation refers to those who migrated from Caribbean countries to Britain between 1948 and 1971, as the UK government invited citizens from across the Commonwealth to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. Although not all Windrush generation migrants arrived on HMT Empire Windrush itself, the ship has become a symbol of the wider mass-migration movement. Many of those who came to the UK had served in the British armed forces, including Commonwealth nurses. The Windrush generation made immense contributions to every aspect of British culture and daily life, including the then newly formed NHS. Permeating all aspects of our lives, the Windrush generation and their descendant continue to make remarkable contributions.
Immigration to the UK from the Caribbean islands was ‘paper light’ in those days as the government rushed to rebuild and regenerate post-war Britain. In 2018, it emerged that the government had not properly recorded the details of the people who had been granted permission to stay in the UK and had failed to issue the paperwork required to confirm their status. As a result, many were threatened with deportation and some were wrongly deported. Landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants had also been destroyed, in 2010. Those people affected were unable to prove that they were in the UK legally and they were prevented from accessing health care, work and housing – a national scandal.
Black nurses, those from overseas and those born in Britain, still face unacceptable discrimination. Black and minority ethnic staff, as a whole, remain less well represented at senior levels and have worse day-to-day work experiences. They are more likely to experience harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues or patients and they face more challenges as they aim to progress in their careers. Nurses from a Black and minority ethnic background are more likely to experience discrimination at work from a manager or other colleague compared with their White counterparts and they are substantially less likely than White applicants to be appointed from a recruitment shortlist (Kapadia et al, 2022).
Our NHS has one of the most ethnically diverse workforces in the public sector, something we should indeed celebrate. Black and minority ethnic nurses have settled in the UK as part of a multi-ethnic Britain (Beula, 2021). Yet, year after year, ethnic minority staff report worse experiences in terms of their lives and careers, something we should be ashamed about. Progress on racial prejudice is painfully slow. Racism experienced is not only apparent in the workplace, it is everywhere, impacting families, living conditions and the person's health and wellbeing.
As a White nurse, I am proud that I was educated and am still influenced by so many Windrush generation nurses. You provided me with the ‘Rolls Royce’ of training. I celebrate you, your commitment, dedication and the contribution you continue to make to the health and wellbeing of the millions of people who use your services. I recognise you and celebrate the enormous difference the Windrush generation, the pioneers and their descendants make. I also recognise the challenges and discrimination that you face, and I pledge to call it out when I see it.
Here's to you all and the legacy that you have left us and to all Black and minority ethnic nurses who are supporting our NHS, enabling people to access services regardless of background, inspiring and leading and offering high-quality, effective care.