The Illustrious History and Continued Importance of BAME NHS Staff
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Monday July 05 2021
As part of her application to become the new head of the NHS, Conservative life peer Baroness Dido Harding stated that she wants to make the NHS ‘less reliant on foreigners’ – a statement which showcased a lack of understanding regarding the NHS and the contribution of so many BAME people and communities. From its very conception, the NHS has been held together by the continuous contribution and services of BAME nurses, doctors, and auxiliary staff.
BAME staff have a long and significant history of working for the NHS, which began as early as 1949 when the Health and Labour Ministries launched recruitment campaigns to fill the deficiencies of the health service. As a result, thousands of migrant nurses arrived in Britain and appointed to hospitals throughout the UK. The majority of these nurses came from the Caribbean, Malaysia, Mauritius, as well as other parts of the world. In 1963, the Conservative Health Minister, Enoch Powell – who would later drive an infamous 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, migrant doctors were applauded even 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 that these incoming doctors had acquired within health institutes in their nations of origin – increasing British medical expertise and capability.
Reliance upon BAME and overseas staff continued throughout future decades. By 1971, 31% of all doctors working in the NHS in England were born and qualified abroad. Doctors from abroad remained fundamental to NHS staffing throughout the late twentieth century, filling vacancies in areas and specialities that were unpopular with doctors trained in the UK. By 1997, 44% of 7,229 newly recruited doctors (under full registration) had received their underlying medical training abroad.
As of 2018, the NHS remained reliant on health professionals drawn from countries with large Muslim populations. 28.8% of all doctors working in the NHS were Asian or Asian British (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or of Middle Eastern origin), according to Gov UK statistics in 2018. As such, Asian and Asian British individuals are the largest minority group in medical roles. Moreover, as of March 2019, NHS workforce statistics reveal that BAME staff constitute a staggering 44.3% of all medical roles – compared to 15% of the public who consider themselves to be from a BAME background. BAME staff made up an incredible 58.6% of all senior doctors, with Asians constituting the majority at 40.6%.
From British Muslim communities, there are over 42,202 Muslims employed and utilised in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups in England. Around 31 % (12,966) of the 42,202 Muslim staff were employed in specialist positions, such as doctors – contrasted with an NHS-wide rate of 10%. Meanwhile, Muslim doctors formed over 21% of the 60,178 doctors who declared 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. A remarkable number of BAME medical staff have therefore been at the forefront of the NHS, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, with many known to have passed away in the process of saving lives.
The NHS is one of the most important and most relied upon national treasures in British society. Contrary to Dido Harding’s understanding, BAME staff have always played an essential role in the health of our nation – from historical contributions to the current workforce battling COVID-19. Ultimately, such an illustrious history and significant contribution needs to be appreciated, and should be acknowledged that without the services of BAME staff, the NHS would not be the treasured asset it is today.