A Word from our Commissioner

In 2018, inspired by the 70th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the Empire Windrush, Donna Mighty, Assistant Primary Care Liaison Manager and Chair of the BME Staff Network at the Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, commissioned a series of formal portraits of past, present and future NHS nurses with connections to the Windrush Generation. These portraits are at the heart of the paired ‘Here to Stay’ exhibitions that will open here at the University of Warwick on 15th June (you can register to join us at the opening event here!) Donna tells us a little more about this process in her blog below.

In 2018 we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948 carrying passengers from the Caribbean.

Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and specifically their BME Staff Network, were very keen to celebrate this occasion and as such set about organising a Windrush Tea Party in partnership with the University of Birmingham’s Black, Asian, Minority & Ethnic (BAME) Staff Network and Recognize Black Heritage & Culture to recognise and celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation in shaping and building our wonderful NHS.

Our tea party took place on Saturday 16th June at University of Birmingham School. We had a wonderful afternoon of learning, entertainment, music and food.

We were keen to create a lasting legacy and capture portraits and stories of nurses (retired and current) who attended our event. We commissioned photographer Inès Elsa Dalal and the first photo shoot for what was to become our “Here to Stay” exhibition took place on 16th June. We held two further photo shoots in July and August.

In 2018 we had the opportunity to take the exhibition to London in August, Medicine Gallery in September, Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust in October and the University of Birmingham’s School of Medicine in November. (You can see pictures of these events here, here, and here, and learn a little more about Donna’s amazing work for the NHS here!)

We are delighted to be working with Professor Roberta Bivins and the Cultural History of the NHS team to bring “Here to Stay” to a new audience. Do join us!

Portraits and Power

Portraits and Power

What do you see, in your mind’s eye, when you hear the word ‘doctor’? And ‘nurse’? Until very recently indeed, the most common answer to these questions would have been ‘An older white man’ and ‘a white woman’. Even today, research suggests that we commonly expect the members of many high status professions — including doctors, surgeons, and scientists, as well as university professors — to be both male and white. In professions like nursing and teaching, which are socially valued and associated with virtues like care and compassion (but often not well paid), Europeans and North Americans still often picture and represent white faces, though this time those faces are female.

If you look at our galleries here on the People’s History of the NHS, you will start to see why these impressions and stereotypes have lingered. Until very recently, despite the efforts of innovative shows like Emergency Ward 10 (which included a Black nurse by 1959, and a Black female surgeon — AND an interracial kiss — as early as 1964), mainstream sources of information have often whitewashed our images of the NHS. Until the 1980s and 1990s, representations of NHS staff (and even patients) produced by NHS and government institutions for public consumption most often showed individuals of European heritage. Whether explaining mass miniature radiography, depicting nurse training, or illustrating ultrasound scanning), the ‘humans of the NHS’ were portrayed unthinkingly as White.

Coverage in British newspapers was no different; a survey of major papers from across the political spectrum (the Times, The Guardian/Observer, and the Daily Mail) showed that photographs of nurses and images of nursing almost always featured only White women, even though BAME nurses were at the heart of NHS hospital care from the 1950s onwards. Only in articles that specifically discussed ‘race relations’ or ‘immigration’ were BAME nurses and doctors routinely visible. This is not because photos of Black, Asian and Mixed heritage nurses were not readily available. These lovely photos (from 1958 and 1967) kindly shared with the People’s History of the NHS by the Friends of Savernake Hospital, celebrate the diversity of their NHS workforce as well as the Christmas holidays. And by the 1970s and 1980s, photos of union meetings too routinely portray an NHS workforce made up of workers from all nations and ethnic backgrounds.

And still today, if you walk down the hallways and through the boardrooms of British hospitals, medical schools, universities, and professional associations, you will be strolling beneath the gaze of a seemingly endless series of old white men in impressive suits and formal postures. The ‘great and the good’ loom large –often literally – in these settings, and prominently if silently tell a story about the institution’s identity and history. Here at Warwick, for example, a quick look at institutional portraits in the wonderful University art collection reveals a sea of white Vice Chancellors, honorees and benefactors. They look down at us, and sometimes even each other. The only portrait that includes a Black man figures him in the background, literally in the shadow of the portrait’s subject, Lord Scarman (author of the Scarman Report on the 1981 Brixton uprising). They represent a matter of fact about the University: like most, if not all British universities, its appointed leaders have thus far come primarily from one demographic group. Only one portrait, that of Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former Commonwealth Secretary General who held the ceremonial role of Chancellor at Warwick from 1989-2002, challenges this monochromatic vision.

But when an institution’s visual history –its own celebrations of its past — only includes one kind of face, what does it say to those who are not shown? Are their contributions, perhaps, not seen? And what does it say in particular about an institution like the NHS that so obviously includes and absolutely relies on people from every background? The staff of the NHS, like its patients, have never been monolithically White. In fact, both in the past and today, the NHS has long been one of Britain’s most diverse organisations. The portraits in the Here to Stay exhibition coming to Warwick’s brand-new Oculus building from June 15th 2019 – large, formal, and beautifully composed by the artist – begin to bridge this gap between NHS image and NHS realities. They also hang permanently at Sandwell Hospital, and remind us that here in the Midlands, as well as across the NHS, leadership, compassion and inspiration come from BAME NHS staff at every level. This is the National Health Service’s rich Windrush heritage. In a linked exhibition at the Modern Records Centre, we have also curated a display of documents showing the heritage that Windrush and Britain’s BAME communities have built for all of us, at home, at work, and in the arts.

Read more: If you want to know more about the visual stereotypes that shape our expectations about doctors, nurses and other professional groups, here are a few places to start:

Roberta Bivins, Picturing Race in the British National Health Service, 1948-1988, Twentieth Century British History, Volume 28, Issue 1, March 2017, Pages 83–109, https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hww059

Marci D. Cottingham, Austin H. Johnson, and Rebecca J. Erickson. “‘I Can Never Be Too Comfortable’: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside.” Qualitative Health Research 28, no. 1 (January 2018): 145–58. doi:10.1177/1049732317737980.

Jane Turner, Vivienne Tippett, and Beverley Raphael. “Women in Medicine — Socialization, Stereotypes and Self Perceptions.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 28, no. 1 (March 1994): 129–35. doi:10.3109/00048679409075854.

https://www.nursingtimes.net/roles/nurse-educators/the-image-of-nursing-how-to-combat-negative-stereotypes/5018581.article

And for an antidote to monochromatic visions of medical professionals, see:

https://www.instagram.com/melaninmedics/?hl=en

Capturing the History of NHS at 70: The Royal College of Physicians & ‘The Museum of Modern Medicine’

In this 70th anniversary week of Britain’s National Health Service, we are delighted to share a guest blog from Curator Kristin Hussey of the Royal College of Physicians (which is also celebrating a significant birthday this year: the big 5-0-0!). Happy Birthday, NHS!

The museum of modern medicine

What would a museum of British medicine since the foundation of the NHS look like? What objects would it include? What stories would it tell?

In light of this year’s NHS70 anniversary, the Museum, Archive and Library of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has been rethinking how we collect and display the history of modern medicine. As Curator, it’s my responsibility to help shape and grow our collection of art and objects so it reflects the ever-changing history of doctors in England and Wales. 2018 is also a big anniversary for the RCP as we mark 500 years since we were established by King Henry VIII in 1518. Since our foundation, the College has been collecting artefacts and archives which trace the history of the organisation, of its membership and of physicianship. Our collections of the early modern period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are particularly rich – helping us to understand more about the wealth, power and ceremony of the early College as well as the development of anatomy. However, as you approach the end of the Victorian era, the museum collection grinds to a standstill.

This lack of collecting beyond the First World War is something I have noticed in many medical museums. Why is it so hard for us to imagine a history of medicine beyond the guts, gore and pain of the nineteenth century operating theatre?  Personally I think there’s an aura of the past about famous doctors and surgeons like Joseph Lister, Edward Jenner, John Snow or William Osler that somehow makes them seem more important. Maybe it’s because the gruesome, outdated and strange tools and remedies of the era seem stranger to us than the stuff of ‘modern medicine’ – the everyday things you can find in a GP surgery or a hospital.

I believe that it is actually this everyday stuff of medicine in the last 100 years that we should be collecting. Museums may seem to be about the past, but they are really about the future. What are the stories and objects people will want to see in exhibitions in 25 years, 50 years or 100 years? What will people think of medicine in 1948 or indeed 2018 when they enter into the realm of ‘history’?  Anniversaries like NHS70 remind us that the mid-20th century is a crucial point in the history of medicine and now is the time to be capturing those objects and stories. With that in mind, the Royal College of Physicians would like to collect and display objects related to the foundation of the NHS and its early years.

Medicine between about 1940 and 1990 represents a period of monumental change. Antibiotics and organ donation, genetic testing and the emergence of HIV/AIDS – displaying the many innovations of the 20th century presents an enormous challenge. As a curator though you aren’t just looking to capture moments of discovery (although that’s important), you are looking for objects that tell a personal story. Sometime which has inspired me about the People’s History of the NHS project is the emphasis they place on the individual experiences of patients. When a visitor comes to a museum, they want to understand what people thought and felt in the past. Whether it’s a doctor or a patient, understanding what a particular artefact meant to someone – how they used it, what it reminds them of, why they kept it. These details can helps us to interpret these items meaningfully for the visitor.

One of the greatest challenges I have found in collecting objects from the 20th century is that people often think their items aren’t important enough to go in a museum. Yet it is often these everyday objects which have the most fascinating stories. Any object can be history if it captures a person’s thoughts or feelings at a particular moment in history. Part of the interesting thing about the RCP Museum is we are interesting in the experiences of both patients and doctors – but ideally stories which bring both together, which help us to understand how patients and doctors have interacted in the past. Two items from our collection illustrate the kinds of artefacts we’d like to collect and display from the NHS era: an early telegram from a doctor desperately seeking insulin to save the life of  young diabetic patient, and this 1994 oesophageal stent, donated by our president-elect Andrew ‘Bod’ Goddard. Stents like these are used in the treatment of cancer, helping to ensure that tumours don’t block the food pipe. Originally invented in the 1880s, this type of plastic model was introduced in the 1970s. However, the plastic stents were difficult to place – something which Dr Goddard dreaded as a trainee doctor. More recently, much more flexible expanding metal stents have been introduced, making these uncomfortable versions a thing of the past. As Bod says, ‘As they are for my patients, oesophageal stents are close to the heart’.

 

If you are interesting in donating something to the Royal College of Physicians related to the NHS, please email history@rcplondon.ac.uk   But first, let me tell you a bit more about what we can and cannot collect, and how you can contribute your objects to our collections!

Note from the editors: Remember, the People’s History of the NHS ‘Virtual Museum of the NHS’ is also collecting. We would be thrilled to collect images of all your NHS objects, big or small — and to hear, save, and share all your stories about them.

 

And if you can’t wait to see more objects, don’t forget to watch this wonderful series on BBC 4, Monday night at 9:00 and available on iPlayer! Objects and stories contributed by members like you tell the human story of the NHS from 1948 until today.