2: The impact of the media and Imperialism on our understanding of the NHS and African contributions
*This is part 2 of a two-part blog piece*
... I looked to set the context in which women from African and Caribbean nations were recruited or travelling to the UK to train in the Health Service, as across the century the migration patterns would’ve changed and the reasons why would be nuanced. The largest influx of women and active recruitment took place with the creation of the NHS and whilst rebuilding post-war Britain. In brief I started with, “There was a need for the labour in particular roles - even when African women had more experience and higher qualifications from their home nations, the options for them was limited. So they had come to work in Britain, in many cases invited to work, taking away skills and knowledge from their home nations, and then kept in low earning roles doing the work that white practitioners were unwilling to do.”
The creation of a National Health Service in 1948 saw the demand for health professionals increased in unprecedented terms. Severe labour shortages existed in unpopular specialisms such as nursing the mentally ill, chronically ill and geriatric care. There was an estimated shortage of 48,000 nurses. With a national campaign failing to make much of an impact, the Ministries of Health and Labour in conjunction with the Colonial Office, the General Nursing Council and the Royal College of Nursing placed advertisements in the Nursing Press encouraging candidates from colonies to come to Britain for training. Recruitment campaigns were pursued with senior nurses visiting commonwealth countries for this purpose.
The number of people working in nursing and midwifery increased by 26% in less than a decade (1949 - 1958). The British Nationality Act of 1948 came into force on the 1st of January 1949. Section 4 provided that a person became a citizen of the UK and the colonies by birth if they were born within the UK and colonies. With respect to health care workers, the bill effectively created an imperial market in nursing labour and set the scene for a subsequent influx of international labour through recruitment campaigns. Amendments to the 1949 Nurses Act allowed fast recruitment of nurses from colonies. Where the colonies themselves did not meet General Nursing Council standards, individual nurses were placed on adaptation training programmes on arrival in Britain.
The 1949 initiative by the National Advisory Council on Nurses and Midwives to encourage colonial territories in sending student candidates to the UK for nurse training. This would allow the trained nurses to provide care in their countries, sparing British nurses, and while training, serve the NHS. Between 1948 and 1973, as many as 100,000 nurses arrived from Africa, South East Asia and the West Indies to work in ‘Cinderella’ specialities such as sexual and mental health where there were acute shortages of staff. This focus on nursing is important, as many of the women we have interviewed, including ones who now practice in other disciplines, such as GPs, midwives or scrub nurses, started their training in nursing and subsequently moved.
Flamingo, October 1961