The Black Angels of the UK’s National Health Service. Clayton Goodwin, who has lately been hospitalized, speaks highly of the impact African nurses have had on patient care and the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.
I’ve spent about as much time in the hospital during the last several months, either as an inpatient getting surgery or as an outpatient getting therapy. This has allowed me to see and learn about the country’s most cherished institution, threatened by its reliance on Africans, for the first time. Africans? Africans, without a doubt, form the backbone of the NHS.
TV dramas often depict nurses as saintly figures since such roles have historically been a gateway for African actors and actresses to enter the business.
They’re a dead-on depiction of the scenario in reality. Less than three years after the inaugural Covid lockdown, the country gathered at open doors every week at a certain time to clap and congratulate the “hero nurses.” A few Africans, like those of any other country, are bound to be clumsy and ungainly, but the vast majority are models of professionalism as they accomplish a Herculean job under adverse conditions.
Near the outskirts of London, at the hospital where I work, Africans have traditionally made up the vast majority of the night shift workers, with many working via third-party agencies rather than for the hospital itself or the National Health Service.
Africans collect vital signs and temperatures as the rest of the world sleeps. Every British elementary school kid of my time (and, definitely, even now) heard the tale of the “Lady with the Lamp” (who was always a white woman) trekking the wards at night to provide solace to the sick.
The same applies to daytime therapy in most private care facilities. Most of the job may be regular, but tasks may also call for significant expertise and independence. All need full dedication.
The field of A&E (Accidents and emergencies), where African physicians excel, is rapidly growing. The National Health Service (NHS) would suffer greatly if that African element were removed. While counting on their devotion and the false idea that they have nowhere else to go, the government is taking a huge risk.
It’s not only the government that may test one’s allegiance. One-third of Black and ethnic minority employees experience prejudice or bullying, according to a study published in the Independent national newspaper, even as this letter is being printed, and most of this is “systemic” and “deeply embedded” inside the NHS organization.
Since 2018, the number of employees from underrepresented groups has increased by 100,000, mostly due to foreign and abroad recruiting. However, only 10% of employees hold executive positions.
However, even a quick scan reveals that the NHS is understaffed and underfunded. A nurse’s duties extend beyond the laying on of hands. However, it is very uncommon for the ward nurse to be unavailable for administrative duties when no one else can take their place.
A persistent background noise throughout the day and night is the unanswered ‘attention!’ buttons. Care may be “paused” for 30 minutes while the lone nurse grabs lunch.
It also seems to my jaded, untrained view that personnel resources are stretched thin at some levels of responsibility. A hospital official who could sign my discharge papers could not be located until I stayed an extra day beyond my scheduled departure.
The very first military assault
While I was in the hospital, the first nurse strike in American history began. Some believe strikes shouldn’t be tolerated in a sector as crucial as this. Still, the nation has an equal moral obligation to ensure that its employees are treated fairly and paid enough never to have to consider striking.
Strikes may be dangerous for patients, but the alternative—many nurses and EMTs leaving for higher-paying jobs abroad, private practice, or leaving health care altogether—would be catastrophic.
That gratitude should be shown via more than just sugary words and hushed applause. Who would want to buy a broken-down vehicle, home, or health service? If the goal is to make the purchase of the NHS inexpensively appealing to private (and potentially foreign) investors, as opponents suggest, the plan might easily backfire.
Some politicians mention the past by suggesting that people should pay when they visit the doctor or the emergency room.
My grandparents were not alone in watching their two-year-old daughter die from a common illness because they could not afford to have a doctor visit their home before the establishment of the NHS. The current population of Africa is the only thing standing between a universal healthcare system and a return to those dark times.
All night-shift district nursing teams and individual day-shift nurses are African outside medical facilities. Their resources are completely exhausted, making their job difficult. Although one member of the night crew (they work in pairs) did their best to remain with me until the ambulance came, they were eventually sent to deal with other situations.
I was given the “highest priority” status, yet I still had to wait five hours for an ambulance. (It has been noted sarcastically that some shifts exist only on paper). The nurses, however, stayed in touch by phone to ensure my safe return. There would be no way to proceed without them.
All of us who profit from this shaky but still thriving NHS must share a guilty question that is obscured by our thanks to the numerous African physicians, nurses, medical technicians, ward orderlies, and other employees. Who cares for the sick, the suffering, and the dying in Africa when we, in the diaspora, are being so well tended to and cared for by Africans here?
The UK government is reportedly recruiting heavily from Nigeria (with all that entails) to fill the thousands of open positions left when it was cut off from its typical European sources in the aftermath of Brexit.
I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on the news while lying in hospital beds and on treatment tables. It’s not like we’ve heard nothing but terrible news. Inspiring words were found in the New Year’s Honours List. It was encouraging to see Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who has done so much for public health, receive the prestigious CBE for her efforts.
Rosamund has started a high-profile campaign to ensure everyone has the right to breathe clean air. The Clean Air (Human Rights) bill is affectionately referred to as “Ella’s Law” after the author’s daughter, who was nine years old at the time of her death in 2013, succumbed to asthma brought on by exposure to poisonous air from the South Circular Road, a major thoroughfare in south-east London.
Asthma’s severity is often underestimated. Ms. Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has worked to win over the public, the press, and elected officials via grass-roots organizing and electoral contests. The House of Lords unanimously approved the bill at the year’s conclusion, and it seems certain to be a hot-button topic in the next mayoral race in London.
The government’s attitude toward individuals working on the front lines of the underfunded, suffering NHS is significantly different from its apparent fondness for (very) affluent Africans. For the latter, it is sufficient to only “give them a clap” (particularly in front of cameras). If they subsequently ask for a respectable living wage, they should be dispatched to…well, anyplace as long as it is out of sight and out of mind.
A chronically understaffed sector will not draw fresh blood, a transfusion of which is required for the future of the NHS, with the dismissive attitude that there will always be more in the recruiting pipeline.
No one in the United Kingdom should entertain the idea that the highly regarded National Health Service (NHS) might collapse if African nurses and doctors returned to their home continent, where they are in high demand.