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This weekend we celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the NHS. The NHS is a great symbol of pride for the British public and so it should be. There is no other health system across the world that resembles the NHS.
Free care at the point of delivery. What a great promise made by the then health minister Nye Bevan in 1948. Of course, it has evolved and changed over the last seven decades but the contribution of the BAME workforce remains as strong now as it was in 1948.
“We felt it was only right to mark the BAME contribution to the NHS and show the representative faces of the nurses and midwives working during the pandemic”
The NHS was built on the shoulders of immigrants, those who arrived on the Windrush, the South Asian doctors and nurses who arrived in the 50s and 60s and the European colleagues who followed more recently.
As a registered nurse, I am proud of the contribution the Florence Nightingale Foundation (FNF) is making to support the leadership development of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) nurses and midwives.
Last year, 43% of our leadership programme participants were from a BAME background. The foundation has supported BAME nursing and midwifery talent through specific programmes and scholarships.
The Windrush Leadership Programme, established in 2018 has gone from strength to strength. It was launched to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948. The programme is open to Windrush descendants and other BAME NHS nurses and midwives.
Which brings me onto our Nurse Behind the Mask campaign that we have launched to mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS.
While we stand by all NHS staff, regardless of race, we at the foundation felt it was only right to mark the BAME contribution to the NHS and show the representative faces of the nurses and midwives working during the pandemic.
BAME health and social care professionals working on the front line of patient care have been particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 outbreak. People from BAME backgrounds appear to be disproportionately likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms.
Of all BAME people, those with Bangladeshi heritage were around twice as likely to die as white British people.
Those with Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black heritage faced between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death than white British people (Public Health England June 2020).
“The NHS was built and continues to be built with the additional support of immigrants, and their legacy will live on beyond this pandemic”
A recent analysis reported in the Health Services Journal (2020) revealed of the 203 health and social care staff known to have died from the virus 63% were from a BAME background, despite these groups only making up 16% of the NHS workforce.
Of the 63 nurses and midwives who have died, 48 (76%) were from a BAME background compared with the 20% BAME nursing and midwifery workforce.
With events around the world coinciding with the Black Lives Matter movement, we felt it was only right to pay tribute to BAME nurses and midwives.
Nurses and midwives instinctively have a calling to help others, to go to their aid, with little thought for their own personal safety.
The images of our nurses and midwives in our collage, while obscuring half their faces, still show the emotion, passion and commitment to their roles.
Yes, it is draining, yes, it is overwhelming to be working in intensive and unpredictable clinical environments, but for each nurse and midwife who has contributed to the Covid-19 response, this is want they do.
The NHS was built and continues to be built with the additional support of immigrants, and their legacy will live on beyond this pandemic.
Happy birthday NHS. Thank you to the nurse and midwife behind the Mask.
Professor Greta Westwood is chief executive of the Florence Nightingale Foundation