Like thousands of other people arriving from the Caribbean who followed the call to come to the ‘Motherland’ to build Britain’s public services, my mother and father left everything and everyone they loved behind in the Caribbean – including me – to answer that call.
Little did they know that the 11-year-old who re-joined them on a cold March day at Manchester airport (whom they had not seen for 5 and 9 years respectively) was going to be one of the few from the Windrush Generation to qualify as a Chartered Physiotherapist in the NHS, and thence to rehabilitate hundreds of people at two of Birmingham’s largest teaching hospitals.
Neither were they to know that she would start a stroke rehabilitation unit, contribute to the education of over two thousand physiotherapy students and see over 30 years’ participation in health education marked by a distinguished service award from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
Her selection as a Chartered Physiotherapist and one of three experts in a BAFTA-nominated and multi-award-winning television programme seeking ways of decreasing social isolation and depression in older people would have been beyond their wildest dreams.
Yet I am just one of thousands of health-care workers – nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners and others – from that Windrush Generation who have withstood many challenges and have seen their contributions to the NHS bear fruit.
Seventy years on, we can celebrate the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, its workers, and the NHS, knowing that their coexistence and interdependency have become embedded in history and that they and their descendants have made – and continue to make – an invaluable contribution to building a healthier nation.
And that is why in my union and professional body, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, I’ve spent many years championing the representation and giving voice to the Windrush generation and other black migrants in the healthcare sector by helping to establish and strengthen the CSP’s Black and Ethnic Minority Network.
Next Saturday, thousands of us will be on the streets celebrating 70 years of the NHS, when we will celebrate the fantastic contribution that migrant workers – including those who came on the Windrush – have made to our health and social care system.
Please come and celebrate with us, but let us also send a strong message to the government: we are proud of our NHS – and we are proud of our diverse workforce.
We want a properly funded health service in public hands and a government that values the contribution of all its workers – none of whom should be made to feel unwelcome in a country that they contribute so much to.