South Asian Heritage Month is underway and the theme for 2022 is ‘Journeys of Empire’. Although the migration of South Asians to the UK goes back many centuries, numbers grew significantly during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
To support the newly formed NHS, more than 18,000 doctors and medical staff travelled to England from former British Colonies including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – myself included.
My own journey began in Punjab, India, where I was brought up in small farming village. I remember having an enjoyable, happy and carefree childhood. At the age of 12, I travelled by myself to England to better my education and future prospects. I was excited to be flying on a plane and travelling alone to a big city. But it was also very frightening, especially as I was leaving my parents, brothers and sister and there was a fear of the unknown.
I didn’t speak, read or write English so I struggled initially, as felt I was thrown in at the deep end. I had no choice but to learn English very quickly and after college, I decided to study Biochemistry in Swansea. As time went on, I became more educated, academically minded and was making wiser decisions. I opted to further my career by studying Medicine and stayed in Wales for a while after qualifying. I went on to gain more hospital experience in the Birmingham area and in Edgware Hospital.
Working in hospitals in the 1980s was very different to how it is now. The workload and pressure felt much less at the time, as we had more resources and staff available. Technology, diagnostics and equipment have all changed vastly over the years, which has altered the way in which we provide care.
I began working as a GP in Warwickshire in 1988 and have been there ever since. I am proud to say that both of my sons followed in my footsteps to pursue careers in the Medical field. My eldest son studied Medicine in Oxford and shortly after qualifying, he went on to gain some consultancy experience. He learnt about pharmaceutical and drug development then decided to set up his own pharmaceutical company. Working alongside Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, he has been involved in initiating drug trials for the treatment of COVID-19. My younger son has just completed his Masters in Immunology, so the healthcare industry is definitely in our blood.
As we all know, there has been extra pressure on the NHS over the last 2-3 years. As GPs, we did our best to support our patients and I was interviewed several times for local radio stations throughout the Midlands. We spoke about the importance of following Government guidance to prevent the spread of infection. We encouraged people to have COVID-19 vaccines, reiterating it was safe and the best way to protect ourselves. We passed on advice about mental health issues during lockdown with self-care tips and who to contact for help. We delivered shows in Punjabi and Hindi, as well as English to make sure we had good coverage for listeners in the West Midlands area.
With this in mind, I’d like to pass on a message to the South Asian communities in England, which is about us all leading healthy, happy lives. It’s my duty to promote ‘prevention is better than cure’. It’s important we all attend our routine screening appointments, as picking something up early saves lives. Although diabetes and high blood pressure are common in South Asian communities, we can improve our chances of better health by educating ourselves and making lifestyle changes. It is far more difficult to treat and manage conditions later on in life.
The same applies to vaccinations – having COVID-19 and flu vaccines means we are less likely to be hospitalised or die from these infections. It’s equally important for children to have their regular immunisations throughout the years. And finally, if you have symptoms that you cannot explain that are worrying to you, please speak with a health professional. We can work together to find the best treatment for you. And if a doctor advises you to take medication and have regular check-ups, please make sure you follow this up. We can all live longer and have fewer problems if we take responsibility for our own health.
You can also read other stories and attend events about South Asian Heritage Month at www.southasianheritage.org.uk