A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service
Ngozika was born in Wolverhampton in 1968, but moved to Nigeria at the age of 10. She returned to the UK in her late twenties and now works as a psychiatrist. We interviewed Ngozika alongside her friend and colleague Esther. Ngozika talks about her education in Nigeria and England, experiences of racism towards staff and patients in mental health services, and her efforts to tackle these problems.
Ngozika: "Well, I did most of my schooling in Nigeria, and I did do some schooling here as well. Actually I did, my secondary education was in Nigeria. My first university I went to was in Nigeria before I came back here, I did a degree here and before I entered to do post graduate in nursing. So schooled in both countries, in Nigeria and the UK."
Ngozika: "What degree did I do in Nigeria, I did industrial chemistry in Nigeria, before coming over here, I did a pharmacology degree before returning to do a postgrad in nursing."
Ngozika: "I found that in Nigeria, it's really quite difficult given that they - the education system. There's not a lot of books in there libraries. There's not a lot of, um, it's quite different from here. Um, but here it's, I found it easier here and there was a lot of resources here. So the education system is quite good compared to Nigeria."
Ngozika: "I came in to the health service after I did my first degree and in pharmacology, that was 2000, I went to work in the NHS as an administrator after I did my degree. And then I went over, I started working there at the time because of the pharmacology degree, most of the jobs were outside London. I didn't want to move outside of London. So I thought I'll find something that I can do. And I thought, yeah NHS is a good place to work because of my science background. Well, I ended up in research or something like that, but I started off as an administrator in East London trust. And then from there, I went to do my degree in nursing. After about a year or so, over a year, I went over to do a postgraduate in nursing. So that's how I ended up in nursing."
Ngozika: "I came across a lot of obstacles that had to do with my ethnicity. I think that right from the beginning of coming back to this country I think there's been, always been obstacles, but being able to get a job, it doesn't matter what qualifications you've got. It's really difficult for Africans to get a job and even when you are in that job. You could see someone, that you can see that you're more qualified than the person, you could see you've got more experience than the person. But they always end up getting the top jobs. So that's my experience with the way the system works."
Ngozika: "Initially I didn't want to do nursing given the other degrees, but I couldn't see any other thing available for me to do, it's either that I sat as an administrator or I could take it a step further. So I made that choice because that's what was on offer. It wasn't really on offer actually, I had to fight to get the training. They don't normally train administrators to become nurses. You have to be a healthcare assistance to be offered the training. So I still had to fight for it before I was allowed to go to the training."
Ngozika: "I came across a lot of, there's a lot of racism going on. You know, I came across quite a lot of racism. People complaining that they're being treated differently because they're black, you could see it in the positions, the ratio of the white managers to the black managers, people go, you know, the white colleagues got moved up the ladder quicker than the black colleagues so there was a lot racism in terms of that, in terms of, um, people got suspended for making a drug error, you get suspended quite quickly. Or if it was a white counterpart, they would, you know, they'd get treated differently. You could always see the racism going on. So, yeah.
Ngozika: "Yes, they were, always got racial abuse from patients. Some patients didn't just like black people, even though you were working with them. You could tell, they will say things to you that you know, that they don't like... "Oh there's a lot of black African nurses on this ward" and things like that. There was always complaints towards black Africans. Sometimes they even mock the way they speak. Someone will say something because they don't sound British. They get mocked by the patients as well."
Ngozika: "If you want to move between the bands, band five, say you qualify as a nurse. You start off with band five. And then after a few years you can apply for a band six position. And after apply for a band seven position. But what black nurses find is that once they're qualified as a band five, they're stuck. Or if they say you need to do a course to get to band six, they're not going to put you on that course because they don't want you to get it. It doesn't matter how many times you apply for that course. They will not give it to you. A white person comes along and applies to go on this course. They'll let the person go on it and they'll give you an excuse. Like, Oh, there's no funding for you or things like that. So it's just, there's no progression."
Esther: "And it's not just nurses, even doctors. They move around, and I'm talking about black doctors move around, because you get a job. You're either harassed out of it or one way or the other. When you interview the next two doctors, they will tell you their own stories. It's not any different, there's a doctor we're working with right now. He trained in Nigeria as a gynecologist and he decided to come over here in 2001, something like that. He got a job. He said there was so much racism from the patients and obviously white women who were saying, I don't want you to touch me because you're black. So he gave up as a gynecologist, and went into psychiatry. So there you are, and that's only recent."
Esther: "Well, I can talk about sickle cell because when I was still nursing at that time in the late '70s, '80s. And as the Windrush generation, as their children were getting older, those who had sickle cell, it was the coming out in the children. And at that time, the British didn't the British doctors didn't know anything about sickle cell, nothing. Right? So you have this young, you know, West Indians, kids turning up with A&E in pain, crippling in pain, and they’ll end up on the ward. And the first thing that the white doctor would say is ‘are they junkies looking for, you know, morphine and all that. Whereas actually, they had sickle cell anaemia. But because at that time, nobody was interested in black people. So they didn't have to be junkies, you can see them rolling about in the bed in pain. In the end, they realised that there was something going on that they didn't know anything about."