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Matter for Discussion: Windrush and NHS 75

Submitted by the RCN Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch

14 May 2023, 09:00 - 18 May, 17:00

  • The Brighton Centre, King's Road, Brighton, BN1 2GR
That this meeting of RCN Congress acknowledges the 75th anniversary of the creation of the National Health Service and the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation to staff the service.

On 22 June 1948, the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Essex, carrying 492 passengers from the Caribbean. Just two weeks later, on the 5 July, the National Health Service was created.

In 1948, there were 54,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS and many of those arriving from the Caribbean helped to fill those places. The following year, the Ministry of Health began working with the Colonial Office, as well as the RCN and General Nursing Council, to actively recruit nurses from the Caribbean (Bivins, no date).

Not everyone in Britain had welcomed their arrival. Caribbean men and women faced overt racism and discrimination, and those who worked in the NHS found their qualifications were not recognised (Serrant, 2020). Despite these hardships, around 500,000 Commonwealth citizens settled in Britain between 1948 and 1971 and many joined the NHS workforce.

But their contribution was not always recognised by lawmakers. Those who arrived in 1948 did so as full British citizens, but later legislation sought to restrict these rights. Then in 2009, the Home Office destroyed the Windrush passenger records. For some, this made it impossible to prove their legal right to residence, leading to wrongful deportation under the ‘hostile environment’ strategy initiated during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary (Collinson, 2018).

Today, the NHS is the biggest employer in Europe of people from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background – 20.7% of the NHS workforce representing more than 200 nationalities (Bonner, 2020).  Without the help of nurses and other medical staff from around the world, the NHS as we know it could not have survived. 

The NHS is again looking to internationally educated nurses to fill the workforce shortfall. As we celebrate these 75th anniversaries, we must reflect on the lessons of the past and ensure that international recruitment is conducted ethically, that we have a just immigration system that treats migrants with respect and compassion, and that all those settling in Britain receive support, equal treatment and access to opportunity.  

Reading list for this debate available at


Bivins R (no date) The Windrush generation and the NHS: By the numbers, People’s History of the NHS. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2023).

Bonner K (2020) Windrush and the NHS: an entwined history, NHS England, 22 June. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2023).

The Brighton Centre
King's Road

Page last updated - 05/05/2023