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Migration, the NHS and the RCN 

Celebrating the contribution of migrant communities to our health service and College 

This year, we celebrate two significant moments in UK history: the 75th anniversaries of the NHS and the arrival of the Windrush generation.

In June 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in England. On board were 1,027 men, women and children hailing from across the Caribbean, as well as Poland. They had been called on by the British government to help the struggling workforce after World War Two.

Just two weeks later, the NHS was formed. Many Windrush passengers took up roles in the NHS, helping to fill 54,000 nursing vacancies. Those first NHS employees faced overt racism and discrimination, and their qualifications were not recognised. But despite these hardships, they became a foundational part of our health service.

Since then, people from around the world have continued to contribute tirelessly to the NHS, making it a diverse and unique national treasure. Without the help of nurses and other staff from around the world, the NHS as we know it could not have survived. 

Celebrate with us

Join journalist Gary Younge and a panel of nursing staff and historians to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS and Windrush. This event is part of Migration: a public history festival, a series of lectures, exhibitions, workshops and walks around London.

The event will take place in person at our London RCN offices, and online.

Image of the Empire Windrush London boat and its passengers

Today's NHS

200 nationalities are
25.7% of staff are from
global majority communities
70,299 of our members
were educated internationally

RCN members making a difference

Learn about the association supporting Caribbean nursing and midwifery staff

The Caribbean Nursing and Midwives Association exists to give a voice to Caribbean health care staff who want to drive improvements in health and social care, education, the nursing and midwifery workforce and policy development.

Together, they tackle inequalities and support members to be the best they can be in their careers.

international students at RCN

Meet the member supporting Indian nursing staff

Suresh and his colleague Coumar set up the British Indian Nurses Association to support Indian nurses working in the UK. Through the initiative, nursing staff are encouraged and empowered to progress in their nursing careers.

Suresh Packiam

Meet the member who gave the world's first COVID-19 vaccine

On 8 December 2020 May Parsons, matron at University Hospital Coventry, became the first person in the world to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient outside of clinical trials.

Find out how May, who has worked in the NHS for 20 years since moving to Britain from the Philippines, felt to be part of the historic moment.


Our commitment to international nursing staff and students

RCN Group EDI statement

Our equality, diversity and inclusion statement focuses on our ambition to be a world-class champion of equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights, and sets out how we aim to achieve this.

RCN Cultural Ambassador Programme

Our cultural ambassador programme aims to make sure nursing staff from minority ethnic backgrounds are treated fairly and are supported to challenge discrimination and cultural bias at work.

Challenging racism at Congress 2023

Lecture: Empire Windrush and NHS 75 – Looking back, moving forward

For this year's Mary Seacole Lecture at our flagship annual nursing event, Congress, Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and Professor Carol Baxter discussed the longevity of the NHS, the Windrush generation and the challenge and contributions of generations that followed nursing pioneer, Mary Seacole.

Watch back this thought-provoking lecture now.

More Congress debates and discussions


Discover more at one of our events

Get support

RCN Immigration Advice Service

If you're an RCN member and are already in the UK, you can get free, confidential support and assistance on immigration issues. 

icons representing diverse nursing staff

Support for international members working in the UK

Our advice and guidance covers all the essentials, including employment contracts and entitlements, as well as peer support and counselling. 

Support for international nursing staff and students coming to the UK

Learn about the NHS, your career options and how to bring your family with you.