By the law of averages it is highly unlikely that if you’re reading this in the UK, that you have had no experience of the NHS. I’ve had many myself; from being born in an NHS hospital to trips for sports injuries over the years, from treatment for a heart problem to watching my father die to seeing my son born, the NHS has played a part in many moments of my life.
But firstly, I want to talk about an experience that is not directly connected to me. A few years ago my ex mother-in-law, Gwen was rushed to hospital after falling ill. She had slipped into a coma and we knew the end was near. Even though I was divorced from her daughter, she was still my son’s grandmother and her family were people who had been a part of my life for many years.
As I sat in the hospital waiting room, various family members started to gather. Gwen had emigrated to the UK from Antigua in the 60’s. She and her husband had brought over three of their children who where born in the Caribbean who grew up in the UK, one of them going on to become a nurse in the NHS. Gwen and her husband Jerry, had a further four children born in the UK. These children have gone on to have grandchildren and in this waiting room they gathered from all over the country to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. One of the grandchildren took a great interest in reading her grandmother’s medical records. She had come back from were she was studying for being a doctor and becoming a part of the next generation of NHS care providers.
Now my ex mother-in-law’s family are not unique, but this account does show the connection between the BME community and the NHS. We have an invested interest as both service users and providers. In the 60’s the UK had put out a call for overseas trained doctors to support the growing NHS with doctors responding from the Caribbean as well as Pakistan and India.
By the 70’s, around 30% of doctors working in the NHS had been recruited from overseas. At the moment, statistics suggest that 14% of the NHS workforce is BME, and 17% of clinicians are from a BME background. This makes the NHS the largest employer of BME staff in England.
But being the largest employer of BME staff does not mean the NHS is a Utopia of racial harmony. There have been recent concerns raised on race bias in leadership courses and reports have shown that there seem to be differential treatment of BME staff to their white counterparts in disciplinary hearings.
But as I’ve said our connection to the NHS is not just as service providers but service users. Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer then men from other ethnic backgrounds in the UK. On average 1 in 4 Black men will get prostate cancer. Black people also have a higher prevalence of hypertension and/or high blood pressure.
BME people in the UK are
• More likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems
•more likely to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital
•more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment
•more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and a deterioration in their mental health.
So there you have it: our history and that of the NHS are entwined, we have been called the “backbone” of the NHS and praised for saving it on one hand and on the other, we face roadblocks and hurdles to achieve success in its ranks, to a lack of understanding and accusations of being a drain on resource as users.
I know the NHS is not perfect and it faces challenges and needs to change but not the ham-fisted efforts that we are witnessing. The current changes may not be of any benefit to us. It is essential that the NHS remains free at the point of access and the current privatization by the back door may leave us with even more difficulty gaining access to services.
Finally, for all its faults the NHS still has so many positives; so many people working tirelessly to help others and I owe them a thanks for saving my life more then once and also for saving my son’s life.
Glen Chisholm is a UK based town Councilor of mixed Jamaican and English descent. He is deputy portfolio holder for communities on his local council also sitting on the Police and Crime Panel and also as Equality and Diversity advisor for a local charity. Glen has previously blogged for a mental health charity trying to raise awareness of the stigma around mental health. Twitter @glenchisholm