The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. At its launch by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on 5 July 1948, it had at its heart three core principles: That it meet the needs of everyone. That it be free at the point of delivery. That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.
Today, around a quarter of NHS staff are non-British nationals and many have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic. Very sadly, a disproportionate number have lost their lives to the disease.
A new exhibition at the Migration Museum in south east London, titled Heart of the Nation, celebrates the foreign-born workers who have dedicated themselves to the NHS since its creation. The retrospective features personal stories of caregivers and explores the challenges they faced at work.
Nurses and doctors arrived from all corners of the globe with very different levels of experience. Some were already specialists in their field. Others came for postgraduate qualification, or to begin their training from scratch. Although many new arrivals had prior knowledge and connections, the experience of arrival was still often a shock. Many intended to come for training and further qualifications and did not intend to stay. Others did not come to the UK with the intention of working in healthcare - but ended up finding roles within the NHS upon arrival.
“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain - as individuals, as communities and as a nation,” said curator Aditi Anand. “Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”