bame communities, bame nurses, black nurses, bame workers, black asian and minority ethnic

The BAME communities’ great contribution to the NHS

By Lee Emmett

​The Office for National Statistics has confirmed that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are being disproportionality effected by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

As the government prepares to launch a review into how ethnicity affects vulnerability to the virus, it presents us with an opportunity to celebrate the huge contribution BAME workers have made to the NHS. Their presence isn’t new but is in fact intertwined into the history of UK healthcare.

BAME nurses have been working in the NHS for generations, with many a part of the Windrush generation; coming from the Caribbean to the UK from 1948-71. However, they weren’t the first arrivals. In 1954, 3,000+ Caribbean women were training in hospitals across Britain; this number increased to 6,365 by 1959. By 1966-67 the total number of overseas nurses and midwifes, who trained here, had risen to 16,745. Research conducted by social historian Stephen Bourne revealed that black nurses worked in the UK healthcare system long before the NHS was introduced. Most people will have heard of Mary Seacole who nursed soldiers in the Crimean war. Others include Annie Brewster, a nurse from St. Vincent, who worked at a London hospital in Whitechapel from 1881 for 20 years, and, Eva Lowe who was originally from Jamaica and trained at St Nicolas’ Hospital in Plumstead, south London, then registering with the Royal College of Nursing as a qualified nurse in 1935.

According to the Royal College of Nursing, there are many other untold stories of woman who trained in the UK and joined the nursing register before the 1940s. It is impossible to know who they were, as ethnicities weren’t recorded on the register. However, it’s known that hospitals across the UK admitted black nurses for training before and during that time.

Today in the UK, one in every five nurses and midwifes are from BAME backgrounds, which is much higher (up to 40%) in some parts of the country, like London.

At Sanctuary International, we have successfully placed hundreds of international staff from Africa, India and the Caribbean who continue to contribute to our UK healthcare system, particularly during this unprecedented time.

The PHE review, due to be out in a few days, should provide a better understanding of how factors such as ethnicity could impact on how people are affected by COVID-19, informing actions to reduce risk and harm to our frontline workers.

For those considering relocating to the UK for work, we have written a series of blogs around working for the NHS and moving to the UK.