Nurses have today been celebrating and reflecting on the contribution that the Windrush generation and their descendents have made to health and social care across the UK.
Windrush Day is held annually on 22 June to commemorate the people from the Caribbean who answered a call to help rebuild the UK after the Second World War.
This year marks 75 years since the first passengers arrived on HMT Empire Windrush. Many of those who migrated from the Caribbean went on to serve in the newly formed NHS.
The Windrush generation made a significant contribution to the health service in its early years, a legacy that has continued until the present day with the NHS being the biggest employer of people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds in Europe.
Nurse leader Yvonne Coghill, former director of the Workforce Race Equality Standard at NHS England, told Nursing Times that the country owed the Windrush generation “a debt of gratitude”.
She said: “As we celebrate the 75th year of the NHS, we must also celebrate those brave Caribbean pioneers that came to work here and helped to make the NHS the best loved institution in the UK.”
Ms Coghill said that nurses and midwives from the Caribbean diaspora, and their children and grandchildren, “must hold their heads high and be proud of the great contribution they have made to healthcare in this country”.
She added: “My hope is that the unconditional love and respect for this country and its institutions that the Windrush generation showed in coming here is finally returned tenfold to the descendants in how they are appreciated, acknowledged and treated in future.”
Meanwhile, Paulette Lewis, chair of the Caribbean Nurses and Midwives Association, told Nursing Times that that it was “important that we do not forget the story and legacy of the Windrush generation”.
She said: “It’s important to celebrate the Windrush for those who came in 1948 to build the UK and save the NHS.
“We were called, and we came in times of need but we paid a high price by leaving out children, and families.
“We came with good skills, experience, hard work and determination.
“Celebrating today reminds us of our contribution and legacy.”
However, Ms Lewis warned that Windrush nurses had “not been shown the respect and value” they deserved, and that progress since on equality, diversity and inclusion had been “slow”.
Estephanie Dunn, Royal College of Nursing regional director for the North West, echoed these concerns, and told Nursing Times that it was crucial to “reflect on what lessons still haven’t been learnt”.
She said: “Many of the Windrush generation came to work in the NHS just as it was being founded and the health service – and nursing profession – would not be the same without their dedication and sacrifice.
“They have helped to shape the NHS into the truly multicultural organisation it is today.
“Despite their contributions, many have faced horrific racism.”
Ms Dunn, a child of the Windrush generation, said that racism was “endemic in health and care” in 2023, and that “it must end”.
“It’s time for policy makers, employers and related institutions to invest in the culture change needed to transform into anti-racist structures and systems,” she added.
Today, nurses and midwives came together at their trusts and associations to mark the Windrush anniversary and celebrate and reflect with their colleagues.
— JE (@JillEastmond) June 22, 2023
— Staff Race Equity & Nationality Network (@WhitSRENN) June 22, 2023
Meanwhile, other individuals have taken to social media to share the legacy of their parents and grandparents who were part of the Windrush generation and joined the nursing workforce here in the UK.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Windrush arrival and soon it will be 75 years of NHS too. Amazing ppl like my Nana who arrived in the 1950s and who worked as a nursing auxiliary. They came from colonies hoping to start life afresh in the mother country. pic.twitter.com/TtiKgIG9mG
— Dr Annabel (@SoSowemimo) June 22, 2023
My grandparents came over to the UK as part of the windrush generation. My Grandma worked tirelessly as a nurse and my Grandad, factory worker. Both had eight children, who then went on to have 28 children.
— Dr Tru Powell (@Tru_Powell) June 22, 2023
Nurse leaders have also used social media to thank Windrush nurses and midwives for their contribution, and pledge to improve the experiences for other Black and minority ethnic health and care workers.
The chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, said on Twitter: “Windrush Day is a chance to celebrate the invaluable contribution that nursing and midwifery staff and others from the Windrush generation have made, and continue to make, to the NHS and social care.
“Some still face racial discrimination; it is the time for us all, collectively across society and the NHS, to combat racism and achieve equality for all. We celebrate the diversity of our workforce.”
Meanwhile, Deborah Sturdy, chief nurse for adult social care, said: “It’s only right to thank the many social care and global majority nurses who have supported our health and care system for so long and continue to do so. You’re amazing.”