People's History of the NHS


Portrait of Bev Morris

I currently work at Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) I’m Head of Service for Continuing Health Care, or have been for the last… eight months!

My journey with the NHS began in 1979 when I did auxiliary nursing. That’s when I started to think: what do I want to do?

I came to this country (from Jamaica) on the 25th of October in 1966, with my mum, and joined my dad here - he came here in ‘61. I arrived at Heathrow Airport and I lived in Aston. I was only five years old and I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, what’s going on, it’s really cold!’ I spent my sixth birthday here and I got a batman mobile for my birthday and I remember thinking ‘What is this!?’ But I haven’t forgotten there has been struggles, we all used to live in one house and I remember the paraffin heaters, I remember the wallpaper. I remember one person looking after everyone’s children! Going to school and being ridiculed. But I think we knew when we went home we were going home to love. That’s what I’ve instilled in my children: it doesn’t matter what goes on out there (in society) when you come home, the love is there.

At school I got called a gollywog and I didn’t realise what it was ‘til I saw it on the jam jar! No one (in my family) knew what it was I remember asking and no one knew! When I realised what it meant I felt a bit, y’know, apprehensive about going back (to school) but my mom said ‘No, you’ve got to go back, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to do better, you’ve got to do better than them.’

Our parents came here with the determination to do better.

Here (in the UK) if you ain’t got no money you’re not getting no food at all! Whereas there (in Jamaica) they don’t realise how rich they are in that they can grow the food… that’s what I love about Jamaica, the slow pace of life, the fresh fruit, the greenery, the ambience...

My mum’s drive is what drove me to where I am today. She worked in the factories, decided that she’d seen an opportunity in nursing in the NHS and did mental health nursing in All Saints and she never stopped there. She continued to do what she wanted to do, to make life better for me and the family. She went on to do midwifery and later on she retired aged 82 but she was a really successful midwife in Sandwell.

I started in July 1980, after having a child in April! I remember going to the occupational health to have my check and something really extraordinary happened where the doctor said ‘Have you just had a baby’ and I says ‘yeah!’ and he said ‘oh, how are you going to manage-’ and I says ‘I will manage, I know this baby’s only three month’s old but’ and he says ‘well, as long as you don’t take time off (sick days) I’ll support this application’ which he did and I’ve never really looked back!

I love working with people that’s my passion. My nursing in Dudley Road was old style with the capes and the caps and everything was really exciting! It was very rewarding because we were all like-minded in that we all wanted to be successful. I remember at night we used to sit down talking about what we’re going to do (in the future). One thing’s for sure: the training was really good.

We did come across barriers where we did feel at times that - opportunities were always offered to English people and Irish nurses - at that time, funnily enough - and we were sort of left: if you wanted to get from A-B you had to go from A-to B-to Z to sort of get recognised!

I think most of us had parents who wanted us to succeed and I think that drove a lot of us to do what we wanted to do.

I finished in 1983 at Dudley Road and moved on to Erdington to work with the elderly and left from there - I felt I needed to do a little bit more. Then I went to Sandwell Hospital, spent years there and worked as a senior nurse. I worked in midwifery, worked in neurology, worked in elderly care. I worked in different areas around the hospital. Worked nights: when they could see the potential in you, leaving you with the phones and having to attend three or four cardiac arrests which was scary but rewarding.

I thought to myself for that time: you can do this girl! You can actually get somewhere here! I thought about expanding my nursing career because at that time my father had dementia. I didn’t understand it (his dementia) and applied for mental health training. With the experience I had what should have been fourteen months training I did in ten months! So, I knew then that you’re not bad at this at all!

I worked in mental health services for a couple of years, became an assistant manager in one of the dementia wards because that was my passion. I continued to bring up a family; I had another child in between that.

One day at the mental health hospital I realised something wasn’t right with one of the patients. I realised it was something more than the emotion and the cognitive impairment and realised there was something going on physically. I said it to my manager (who was English) and she wouldn’t accept it. I kept writing notes and reporting and saying ‘No something’s wrong here’ and I told my manager and she wouldn’t ‘ave it! She said ‘you know too much and you want to progress very quickly’ and in the end I had to go above her and tell someone else and when they realised we had to call public health in because these patients had this bacteria which they couldn’t shake off. So we had public health, we had the CCG, next thing I knew I was in a meeting - little old me - with thirty people trying to save people. Fortunately only two people died but it could have been a much worse epidemic.

I remember one of - my now manager in the CCG - said to me ‘we could do with people like you in the CCG’ and I felt really proud! It gave me food for thought really… I thought ‘yeah, y’know, you’ve got to celebrate yourself sometimes! In terms of what you’ve achieved’

I’ve been at the CCG since 2009 and I’m really, really chuffed at the moment with the role I now have! It’s been hard work and I’ve instilled that in my children about being proactive, (telling them that) - the barriers are only there for a time, people are only there for a certain amount of time in your life. You’ve gotta make sure the positive outweighs the negative.

So with my children I’m always saying ‘be outspoken, if you feel there’s something wrong in your work, go up and confront people if you think there’s a problem - they’re not different to you really, even if they’re in a higher role, they’re just a person.

I feel that’s worked, I mean, they’ve all been to university, they’ve achieved, they’re all now working - I feel satisfied, I’m not saying I feel comfortable. I think it’s important to lift them out of the past and saying ‘we can do this’ use my shoulder and I’ll elevate you and we’ve got to share we’ve got to acknowledge that we are good. We forget all this in all the negatives. My mom used to say forget about other people, think about you think about how you are.

For me it’s about lifting a generation up that has struggled but it’s about using your own experience to get them there.

All photographs copyright of Inès Elsa Dalal © 2019 Commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, 2018. No photographs or text may be referenced or published elsewhere, without prior permission.

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