published on
June 22, 2023

Windrush 75th anniversary: celebrating the generation who built the NHS

Jeanne Loganbill
posted on
Care professionals
Windrush 75th anniversary: celebrating the generation who built the NHS

It’s been 75 years since the first migrant ship, HMT Empire Windrush, arrived in the UK. In this post, we’ll pay tribute to the Windrush generation, whose members helped launch the NHS.

A call for workers

After World War II ended, the UK government needed workers to help rebuild the economy. With that in mind, Parliament began drafting new legislation to make it easier for people from the Commonwealth to emigrate to Britain. 

The British Nationality Act 1948 created a brand new status for British nationals: Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC). From then on, people from former colonies were able to settle more easily in the UK

HMT Empire Windrush arrived in Britain from Jamaica at the end of June 1948, carrying 1,027 passengers and two stowaways. Because they were legally allowed to come to the UK, none of the people aboard were given any special immigration-related documents. Instead, they settled into daily life, began working and raised families. 

If you’re of West Indian heritage in the UK, you probably have at least one direct connection to the first wave of people to arrive.

Many West Indian immigrants took hard labour jobs, playing an essential role in the country’s economic recovery. Others became part of Britain’s brand new National Health Service, founded later that year by health secretary Aneurin Bevan. 

Windrush and the NHS

The first health service of its kind, the NHS was, to put it mildly, revolutionary. Decades in development, it meant that healthcare suddenly became available to everyone. 

A loyal and dedicated workforce, including many people from the Windrush generation, made the NHS a success in its early years. 

One West Indian healthcare professional, Pearly Morgan, travelled from Jamaica to the UK at the age of 22. She began working as an auxiliary nurse at Springfield Psychiatric Hospital in Crumpsall before specialising in midwifery. Later, she became a senior sister at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.

Sadly, Pearly saw prejudice, discrimination and racism first hand throughout her career – and she wasn’t the only one. Rosie Purves, a nurse who travelled to England from Trinidad in the 1960s, found herself at the receiving end of racial abuse while working on a children’s ward. When a mother complained about Rosie because of her ethnic origins, her NHS trust moved the child to a different ward. 

Years later, Rosie successfully sued the NHS trust and became a campaigner for equality in the health service. During her 30-year career at Southampton General Hospital, she gave support to other care professionals affected by discrimination, winning a Local Hero award in the process.

Tackling discrimination head on

The Windrush scandal in 2018 made the general public aware of how badly West Indian immigrants had been treated, which led to a push for new anti-discrimination legislation. 

If you notice racism or discrimination at work, there are practical things you can do about it:

  • Challenge discrimination when you see it. Report racism to your line manager, a trusted colleague or your union rep right away. If you’re a Florence professional, talk to your account manager.
  • Keep a record of abusive behaviour. Racist jokes, name-calling, mockery, abusive language and physical assault all count.
  • Suggest training. If your workplace doesn’t offer anti-discrimination training, speak to your line manager about courses and workshops.
  • Listen with empathy. Be there for black or minority ethnic colleagues – be an advocate for respect and equality in the workplace.

We’re here for you

The Windrush generation made a huge positive impact on the healthcare industry after arriving in the UK – particularly the early NHS – and their descendents continue to do so today. We can’t thank them enough.

Florence can help you find flexible shifts near you, take essential training courses and improve your work-life balance. Find out more and sign up today.

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