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Back in 2005, foreigners like me, pledging their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth in the London Borough of Redbridge, were rewarded with a fine bone china mug, as well as British citizenship. That old letter confirming my UK permanent residency is just as unforgettable as the recent one recognising me as a Member of the British Empire.
Some might say, besides a couple of port cities like Lagos and Badagry, my kin – Yoruba people of Nigeria, have little institutional memory about the worst of the British Empire. Add to that Operation Legacy (the 1950s Foreign Office program to destroy colonial documents), and the fact the NHS is older than my country (NHS, 72 vs. Nigeria, 60); these faint temporal landmarks and the desire not to live through a lens of internalised inferiority mean we’re rarely in a state of high moral indignation about such things.
The invitation to be a Member of the British Empire was the nightmare manifestation of a dual identity crisis; a dilemma of my modern metropolitan consciousness exposing the otherness of my African heritage within. Accepting the MBE invite in this current climate felt strange but rejecting it looked impossible. Now, as a bona-fide member of the British Empire and Co-Chair of our BAME Staff Network (for the record, here’s my award-winning piece on how problematic ‘BAME’ is for organisations, the circumstances around this award make me think about the BAME issues across the UK’s greatest institution, the NHS.
What unintended harm are we causing patients because our programs, processes or plans don’t fully use the ideas and talents of BAME colleagues? It is a patient safety issue so the argument we should now be making should focus on individual stories and where the impact is most deeply felt.
It is a proven phenomenon that people have a stronger emotional response towards an identifiable ‘victim’ than a statistical victim/group. Because of this distinction between individual and statistical lives, the race agenda should now evolve and build on its statistical and measurable approach.
Furthermore, we talk about the effects of staff experience which subsequently impact patients experience, yet rarely extend that to consider the impact of staff experience for those who create the operational and policy environment everyone works in.
On a more positive, part of my MBE award was possible because I took advantage of our progressive volunteer policies and the support of great senior leaders like Emily Lawson (too many others to thank but honourable mentions to Helen Bullers, Caroline Beardall and Shahana Ramsden).
My situation highlights the good things that can happen when talent is given space to grow within a supportive network. This should be a first example among many with talent and development opportunities available, open and fair for all NHS BAME staff.
Finally, getting back to the good ol’ British Empire. There is no better rejection of the colonial view of ‘third-world’ countries than the NHS’ international engagement happening in unrestricted and equal terms. Many NHS organisations and staff offer advice, training, and their expertise to colleagues and systems overseas. Once the NHS gets through dealing with COVID-19, the NHS Export Collaborative will bring together many UK organisations to ensure our overseas engagement happens in sustainable ways, allowing re-investment into domestic NHS services.
Supporting efforts to realise the Long Term Plan pledge for the NHS Export Collaborative is exciting and a timely coming together of my worlds. My story and relative success is the result of being supported by colleagues who lived Our NHS People Promise and gave space for my passion. On which note, if you would like to talk NHS and Global Health stuff, do get in touch: Adebusuyi.Adeyemi@nhs.net.
The commemorative mug still sits in my parent’s cupboard. Instead of seeing the Queen at Buckingham Palace, in true British fashion, we will dust it off for a socially distanced cup of tea. A helpful reminder of what can happen when you are given space to grow.