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Heroes of the NHS

Heroes of the NHS

Categories: Latest News

Thursday April 09 2020

The NHS is a service which is relied upon by the entire nation, and with the challenges of the current COVID-19 crisis, its value has perhaps never been so acutely visible. BAME and Muslim communities have had a long and significant history of valuable contributions within the NHS and they continue to be an indispensable asset. As of 8th April 2020, five British Muslim heroes of the NHS, four doctors and a nurse, have died while heroically battling COVID-19.

Dr Habib Zaidi, a 76-year-old GP from Essex was the first doctor to die and was described as having “sacrificed his life for his job”. Meanwhile, Dr Adil El-Tayar, a 63-year-old surgeon from London was a “very hard-working and dedicated surgeon who gave the precious gift of life”. Similarly, the family of Dr Amged El-Hawrani, a 55-year-old ENT consultant from the Midlands, stated that “his greatest passions were his family and his profession, and he dedicated his life to both”. The most recent doctor to die was 68-year-old Dr Alfa Sa’adu who was an NHS doctor for nearly forty-years and, despite being retired, continued to work as a locum until his death. His family described him as “a very passionate man, who cared about saving people”. Finally, nurse Areema Nasreen was just 36-years-old and was known to be an “amazing person” who “put herself last”.

These five British Muslim heroes gave their lives to protect their fellow British citizens from COVID-19. However, this particular case of heroism from Muslims regarding the NHS is not a recent or isolated phenomenon. Muslims have had a long history of answering the call and contributing to the NHS. 

In 1963, the Conservative Health Minister, Enoch Powell, who later drove the call for stricter controls on migration, propelled a campaign to recruit trained doctors from abroad to fill the labour deficiencies brought about by NHS expansion. This call was heeded by an estimated 18,000 doctors from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) – countries with large Muslim populaces.

At the time, these migrant doctors were applauded by Powell, who declared that they “provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals”. The UK further benefited from the experience and involvement that these incoming doctors had with the health institutes in their nations of origin, thus increasing British medical expertise and capability.

By 1971, 31 per cent of all doctors working in the NHS in England were born and qualified abroad. Doctors from abroad remained fundamental to NHS staffing in the latter decades of the twentieth century, filling vacancies in areas and specialties that were not very popular with the UK trained doctors. By 1997, 44 per cent of 7,229 newly recruited doctors (under full registration) had received their underlying medical training abroad.

As of September 2019, it was established that 42,202 Muslims were employed and utilised in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England, with Muslims constituting 6% of the 712,073 of the staff who hold a religious belief. Around 31% (12,966) of the 42,202 Muslim staff were employed in specialist positions, such as doctors, contrasted with a general NHS rate of 10%. Meanwhile, Muslim doctors formed over 21% of the 60,178 doctors who hold a religious belief. For a community that makes up under 5% of the national populace, Muslims are unquestionably over-represented within specialist occupations in the NHS.

However, many of these heroic NHS workers at the frontline of fighting the coronavirus have been confronted with empty shelves when they go shopping after long, exhausting, and dangerous shifts. Meanwhile, others across the country are facing isolation and are often unable to get the essentials that they need. As a result, Muslim volunteers from all over the country have stepped in to support their local communities. 

Earlier this month, three mosques in Preston collected essential items from the Muslim community which were donated to the incredibly hard-working NHS staff in the area. Donations included; toiletries, easy meals, and deodorants, while other contributions included toilet paper, cereal bars, drinks, and crisps. A spokesperson from one of the mosques was quoted as saying “In this moment in time our whole nation is thinking about the NHS staff. We wanted to do our bit, so sent messages out via social media to members of our mosques and community. We are planning to continue with the support as much as we can in the coming weeks and months…”.

Meanwhile, a mosque in Blackburn is playing its part in supporting the local community throughout the ongoing pandemic. The clergy and worshippers at Masjid E-Raza Mosque have become central to delivering food and medical supplies to vulnerable members of the community while also offering child support and phone conversations to those at risk of loneliness. The mosque also pledged support for the Lancashire Telegraphs’ campaign to support the NHS during the crisis, with the president of the mosque, Abdul Adam quoted as saying “They (the NHS staff) are our heroes and they are in the front line so everybody should come together to donate and do all they can”.

Furthermore, a mosque in Bolton has been transformed into a hospice to help patients afflicted with the coronavirus in their recovery. The mosque, which is becoming known as a “nightingale mosque” has been converted to accommodate 55 beds for end-of-life patients. Dr Mohammed Jiva, medical officer for the Bolton mosque, rallied his community after seeing public venues across the UK being turned into temporary hospitals and morgues to help cope with the growing number of cases and deaths due to the coronavirus.

Also in this spirit of solidarity, MEND has partnered with various voluntary and grassroot organisations to help respond to the needs of the vulnerable. As a result, MEND volunteers have been supporting their communities by delivering medications and doing food shopping for those who are most in need. 

The NHS is one of the most important and relied upon national treasures in our society. From historical contributions in building the service, to providing essential services within the current workforce, Muslims continue to play an indispensable role in the health of our nation during this incredibly difficult time. 


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