New exhibition to shine spotlight on role of migrants in NHS


A NEW exhibition launching in Black History Month will shine a light on the contributions black and ethnic minority people from outside the UK, and other non British nationals have made to the NHS.

Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS is a new digital exhibition from the Migration Museum. It will be unveiled on 5 October.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the NHS, with staff who help to keep it running and save lives being hailed as heroes.

The essential contributions of people from all over the world who come to work in the NHS has also been a focal point of conversations about what makes the health service great.

More than a quarter of staff working in NHS trusts are non-British nationals, according to data from 28 trusts. Almost half of doctors working in the NHS are from a black or minority ethnic background. Many have found themselves working on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning they face a greater risk of contracting the virus, and a disproportionate number have lost their lives.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has reignited the attention paid to the crucial work of black and other non-British nationals working in the health service, migrants have played a key role in the NHS ever since its creation in 1948.

“As the outpouring of affection during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the NHS is a source of national pride and is often painted as a distinctly British success story. Yet the NHS simply wouldn’t exist without the generations of people from all over the world who have built, grown and staffed it,” said Aditi Anand, head of creative content at the Migration Museum and curator of the exhibition.

Anand added: “Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”

Heart of the Nation is a multimedia exhibition that puts this story centre stage through oral histories and archival materials, as well as art, animations and data visualisations – all which explore the personal stories of care givers, or the individual and institutional challenges they face.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Dozens of stories contributed by people who have come from all over the world to work at all levels of the NHS from the 1940s to the present day. 
  • A newly commissioned animation by visual storyteller Tribambuka, narrated by acclaimed author and poet Michael Rosen who himself was hospitalised during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Artworks by The Singh Twins and EVEWRIGHT. 
  • Photographs by Charlie Phillips, Chris Porsz and Rankin, alongside personal and archival photos. 
  • Opportunities for people to submit their stories – to be added to the exhibition on an ongoing basis.

The Migration Museum has also worked with Spotify to create a Heart of the Nation playlist, including songs shared with the museum by NHS workers.

Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS will launch on Monday 5 October 2020 at A physical display accompanying the exhibition will be launched when the Migration Museum reopens in late October 2020.

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