22 June 2018 is a historic day. It marks the 70th anniversary of an event which transformed the lives of many people. It was the day the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, bringing workers from Caribbean countries to rebuild a country recovering from the horrors of World War Two.
Of course it’s not the only big 70th anniversary being celebrated in the UK. The NHS was formed in the same year and the two events are inexorably linked, with many of those who had just arrived in Britain in 1948 becoming some of the health service’s first employees.
Seventy years on and the achievements of black and minority ethnic (BME) nurses were at the forefront of the NHS70 Windrush Awards in Manchester this month. Although there was only one dedicated nursing category, six nurses received awards.
‘The ultimate professional nurse’
Doreen Black was one of the stars of the night, winning the top leadership category. Doreen, matron for oncology and haematology at Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, says she was “over the moon” to have won, adding that previous generations of BME staff in the NHS had left a legacy for others to build on.
Doreen became a registered nurse in 1990, and started work for her current employer in 1995 as a senior staff nurse in gastroenterology. Later, as ward manager, she helped redesign the ward into an area of excellence and was part of the team which initiated an award-winning nurse-led service in gastroenterology. The ward remains one of the best performing in the trust, with a dedicated team of nurses from all ethnic backgrounds.
Doreen became a matron in 2015 and has supported her trust in international recruitment. She’s passionate about supporting overseas nurses in the UK to help them settle and feel confident in a different working environment.
She’s also been elected a shadow staff governor for nursing and midwifery and has recently taken on the role of cultural ambassador for the organisation to ensure that equality at work is maintained at all times for BME staff.
In her award citation, Doreen was praised for being determined, loyal, conscientious and for continually striving to improve patient care through developing staff and services. She says she’s always wanted to ensure the highest possible care for patients. “With support, staff attain their full potential and will deliver care that is kind, caring, safe and effective,” she maintains.
Writing on the NHS70 Windrush Awards pages, Doreen’s colleagues are full of praise for her work, describing her as “the ultimate professional nurse”. One colleague wrote: “Having known Doreen as a student nurse, newly qualified staff nurse and later re-meeting her as a matron, she has never changed in her work ethic, professionalism and in her ability to bring fun into the workplace. She has always been a joy to work with and for.”
Today a quarter of nurses and midwives in the UK are from a BME background. Thanks to race discrimination legislation they should thankfully no longer face the overt racism that was so prevalent in the 1940s. But many BME staff still face challenges and the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) was recently introduced into the NHS in England to help highlight some of the issues these staff continue to experience.
RCN Fellow Yvonne Coghill (pictured below), who was awarded a CBE in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours for her services to racial equality in the NHS, was the recipient of a special recognition NHS70 Windrush Award.
She is NHS England's director of the workforce race equality standard implementation programme and says it’s important to celebrate the work of BME staff. However, she points to their continued under-representation at senior level.
“Many people have spent a lifetime working in the NHS and, for some, their parents before them. It is therefore surprising that when we look at the number of BME people in our population and working in our service there are less than 7% of BME people at the most senior levels,” she says.
But she adds that the contributions of BME staff to the NHS over the past seven decades cannot be overstated.
“It has often been said that the NHS could not function without its BME staff, and this is undoubtedly true,” she says.
The Government has announced that a national Windrush Day will take place on 22 June every year, encouraging communities across the country to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants. The event will be overseen by a body of British Caribbean representatives and a Windrush Day grant of up to £500,000 will be available each year to charities and communities seeking to hold commemorative and educational events.
Read more about the NHS70 Windrush Awards.