Ahead of the NHS’s 70th anniversary, the Chief Nursing Officer for England shares the amazing achievements and notable milestones of our BME nurses and midwives over the past 70 years.
I am delighted to write this blog today with Professor Laura Serrant, Professor of Nursing in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University and Chair of my national Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) BME Strategic Advisory Group. We mark some of the key achievements of BME nurses and midwives in the forming and shaping of the NHS today. We simply cannot capture every significant event and fantastic individual in this blog, but we hope this encapsulates the huge contribution of BME nurses and midwives across the seven decades of the NHS.
Following the war, the British government encouraged mass immigration from the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth to help re-build Britain. On June 22 1948, the Empire Windrush landed at the port of Tilbury and its passengers came ashore. Many of these passengers were among the first to work in the NHS, which launched just two weeks later on the 5 July.
In 1950, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1910-1992), became the first qualified black nurse to work in the NHS, having completed her training at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and shortly after in 1954, one of the first Chinese nurses from Hong Kong was trained in the UK, Grace Mary Yu, who started work at the NHS Royal Sea Bathing Hospital in Margate. The following year, it was estimated that 3,000 colonial women were training in NHS hospitals across the country and during the 1960s immigration from South Asia increased to equal that of the Caribbean.
The 1960s was a great decade for the NHS, with treatment greatly improved by innovations such as the polio vaccine, chemotherapy and the introduction of renal dialysis.
In 1964 Daphne Steele (1929-2004) was appointed the first Black Matron in the UK at St Winifred’s Hospital in Ilkley, Yorkshire; and just five years later, in 1969, BME nurses made up 25% of NHS hospital staff.
It was in 1979 that Dame Elizabeth Anionwu became the first specialist health visitor in England, working at the Central Middlesex Hospital. This year saw the first nurse-led UK Sickle and Thalassaemia Screening and Counselling Centre set up by pioneering nurses and medical colleagues, including Dame Elizabeth. In 2010, Dame Elizabeth was inducted into the Nursing Times, Nursing Hall of Fame for services to the Development of Nurse-led Services and in 2016 she was presented with the Chief Nursing Officers’ Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was awarded a Damehood in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours List for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal.
Professor Justus Akinsanya (1936 – 2005) was appointed the first BME Nursing Professor at the Dorset Institute, (now Bournemouth University) in 1985 and three years later became the first BME nurse on the English National Board for Nursing and Midwifery. In 1989 Professor Akinsanya became the first nurse appointed Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor at Anglia Polytechnic University.
In the 1990’s Nola Ishmael was appointed as the first BME private secretary at the Department of Health. As Director of Nursing and Nursing Officer, Nola played a pioneering role in the establishment of the Mary Seacole Leadership Awards, which focus on improving the health and life chances of people from black and minority ethnic groups in the UK.
And in the same decade, Professor David Sallah was awarded the first Mary Seacole leadership award for his work in investigating ‘effectiveness of mental Health services with a view to develop outcomes measures for forensic mental health’. Professor Sallah went on to work on many national developments and enquiries around mental health and BME issues.
In 1997, the Royal College of Midwives appointed Dame Karleen Davis as its first BME General Secretary. She led the RCM through a time of transformation and advancement, both for the College and the Midwifery Profession. Dame Karlene is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and was also Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre and elected President of the International Confederation of Midwives, an international non-governmental organisation that unites 85 national midwifery associations from over 75 countries. In 2001, Dame Karlene was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to the National Health Service and Midwifery.
In 2001 the Royal College of Nursing appointed its first black General Secretary, Dr Beverley Malone. Dr Malone completed her training in psychiatric nursing in America and became Instructor of Psychiatric Nursing at Wayne State University in Michigan in 1972. She later obtained her PhD in clinical psychology from Cincinnati University and in ’96 she was elected President of the American Nurses Association.
Professor Laura Serrant, Chair of the CNO BME Advisory Group said: “The first formal meeting of the CNO BME Advisory group took place in 2002. The group was established by Nola Ishmael, along with founding members Paulette Lewis, Lynette Phillips and Mary Clarke. These founding nurses and midwives utilised the expertise, knowledge and experience of senior BME nurses working in the NHS, to contribute to the development of policy and service planning across the organisation. An additional aspiration of the group was to highlight and recognise the potential of BME staff.”
In 2005, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust began to implement the ‘Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health’ policy and won awards for their work. The aim was to break down institutional barriers to accessing and receiving culturally and linguistically appropriate care.
In 2011 Eleanor Smith was appointed Unison’s first black president, and in 2015 the Royal College of Nursing appointed its first BME President in Cecilia Anim CBE.
Today’s NHS is represented by 202 nationalities, making it one of the most ethnically diverse organisations to work for in the UK and indeed the World. There is no doubt that BME nurses and midwives have made a massive contribution to bolstering the workforce and in the shaping of the NHS over the past seven decades.
Laura and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all our BME nurses and midwives for their staunch support and amazing achievements over the years. We look forward to the next 70 years and to the contribution that our BME workforce will continue to provide.
- Read more information about plans to mark the NHS’s 70th birthday, including how you can get involved.
- Find out more about plans to celebrate nursing, midwifery and care staff across England on 3 July.