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Touched by black hands: Windrush nurses speak out

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Retired Caribbean nurses who continue to fight discrimination will join historians and performers for the first Windrush Day celebration on Saturday 22 June.

Retired Caribbean nurses who continue to fight discrimination will join historians and performers for the first Windrush Day celebration on Saturday 22 June.

Taking place at the University of Greenwich, National Maritime Museum and the Tramshed theatre in Woolwich, there will be first-hand accounts from people who arrived as part of the Windrush Generation.

Among those telling their stories will be members of the Retired Caribbean Nurses association. Since its inception the NHS has relied on migrant labour, and Caribbean migrants have played a significant part in providing healthcare for the British public.

Researchers from the University of Greenwich – Dr Myrtle Emmanuel, Professor Tracey Reynolds and Dr Leroi Henry – are working on a study to document the voices of some of these migrant nurses. This is part of a wider project, exploring the experiences and intergenerational legacy of the Windrush generation.

Myrtle said: "We interviewed retired nurses from a range of socio-economic backgrounds who migrated to the UK from five Caribbean islands.

"Most experienced discrimination during their careers and argued that black nurses were treated less well than their white counterparts. All the nurses suggested that they generally had good relationships with patients. But most also reported occasional violence and verbal abuse from patients, such as being asked 'where's your tail?' or told 'take your black hands off me'.

"In the context of limited opportunities in the Caribbean, especially for married women, the nurses were attracted to the UK by recruitment drives and information from friends and family already here.

"There was segregation in accommodation, with migrants not being allowed to share rooms with white nurses, and a 'canteen culture' based on rigid status differences.

"This ethnic hierarchy saw senior Caribbean nurses put into the more junior State Enrolled Nurse (SEN) scheme, rather than State Registered Nurse (SRN) training, which severely inhibited their promotion chances.

"Many of the nurses, despite these barriers, progressed up the career ladder in the face of adversity, through their resilience, staying power and coping strategies. Overall the nurses interviewed emphasised how their very strong work ethic, commitment and dedication helped to bolster the NHS."

Also speaking will be Caribbean Social Forum members Gilbert Clarke, Vincent Green and Ralph Stretton. They will talk about arriving on one of the ships that brought people to the UK and how they were received. They will also discuss how it felt to leave everything behind and come to such a big place from those tiny islands.

The Windrush generation are the thousands of people who came to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971, in response to post-war labour shortages.

For more on Windrush Day Celebration: From Mother's Land to Mother Country: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/windrush-day-celebration-from-mothers-land-to-mother-country-tickets-62971929737