top of page

SPOTLIGHT: HMS Windrush. The first ever NHS Nurses and present day leading legends in Nursing

By Marceline Powell.

As we celebrate all nurses on International Nurses Day 2020, I really wanted to make sure we acknowledged our nurses from black and ethnic communities in the UK. The reason is that we often lack information about some of the pioneers who have built, and continue to build, shape, and develop one of the best health services in the world. And despite early adverse experiences, to be able to celebrate that today, we have such dedicated, talented, and ethnically diverse nurses and midwives across the UK.

DO YOU KNOW WHO THIS IS? Read on to find out.

Thank you to our older generation who arrived on HMS Windrush, and were among the first ever NHS Nurses.

Following world war 2, the British government encouraged mass immigration from the countries of the Commonwealth to help re-build Britain. HMS Windrush landed at the port of Tilbury on 22 June 1948 and its passengers entered Britain for the first time. This ship brought in the first group of more than half a million migrants. They would go on to settle in the UK and make a significant and lasting contribution to the infrastructure, its economy, and its culture, to this day.

These individuals became a critical part of the establishment of the NHS as we know it. Those first groups of NHS nurses worked long hours, and managed demanding workloads – just like today’s nursing staff. However, despite many of them having the required qualifications, only a very small minority were accepted onto state registered nurse training. Fewer still, received promotions or opportunities to move up the ladder and pursue any ambitions.

“Systemic, deep rooted and widespread racism created barriers to advancement and left these nurses subject to abuse and mistreatment. Despite this, the vast majority remained here in the UK, continuing to care for patients and adding to our profession as it developed”. Say's an article co-written for the Royal College of Nursing blog by Professor Laura Serrant . Queens Nurse, Chief Nursing Officer for England

Celebrating present day leading legends of nursing and midwifery.

People and contribution’s you may not know about.

We want to make sure we highlight some of the pioneers in Nursing and Midwifery, you may not already know about. The celebration of pioneers like Mary Seacole, whilst important, leaves us with a sense of a 'past contribution' when the world of Nursing and Midwifery still benefit from some of the best black minds to this day. We've selected a few of these great minds, thinkers, pioneers and shapers below.

Here are some of our leading legends of Nursing.

Professor Laura Serrant PhD, MA, BA, RGN, PGCE,

Queens Nurse, Chief Nursing Officer for England

Professor of Nursing in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University and Chair of national Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) BME Strategic Advisory Group.

Professor Serrant has been awarded Queens Nurse status by the Queens Nusing Institute and has received various research scholarships and awards including the Mary Seacole nursing research leadership award, Florence Nightingale travel fellowship and Smith and Nephew research fellowship. She has over thirty years’ experience of health care practice, research, policy development, training and management. In 2014 she was recognised by the Health Service Journal in three separate categories: Inspirational women in healthcare, BME pioneers and Clinical leader awards.

Dame Donna Kinnair. PHOTO RCN

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.

Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Grace Mary Yu,

In 1954, one of the first Chinese nurses from Hong Kong was trained in the UK, Grace Mary Yu, she started work at the NHS Royal Sea Bathing Hospital in Margate.

During the 1960s immigration from South Asia increased to equal that of the Caribbean.

Daphne Steele (1929-2004)

In 1964 Daphne Steele (1929-2004) was appointed the first Black Matron in the UK at St Winifred’s Hospital in Ilkley, Yorkshire.

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Credit NHS England

In 1979 Dame Elizabeth Anionwu became the first specialist health visitor in England, working at the Central Middlesex Hospital. 2018 saw the first nurse-led UK Sickle and Thalassaemia Screening and Counselling Centre set up by pioneering nurses and medical colleagues, including Dame Elizabeth.

Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Credit Vanguard

In 2010, Dame Elizabeth was inducted into the Nursing Times, Nursing Hall of Fame for services to the Development of Nurse-led Services. 2016 she was presented with the Chief Nursing Officers’ Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was awarded a Damehood in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours List for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal.

Dr Beverley Malone

Dr Beverley Malone

In 2001 the Royal College of Nursing appointed its first black General Secretary, Dr Beverley Malone.

Dame Karleen Davis

Dame Karleen Davis. Credit Nursing Times

In 1997, the Royal College of Midwives appointed Dame Karleen Davis as its first BME General Secretary. She is credited with leading the Royal College of Nursing (RCM ) through a time of transformation and advancement, both for the College and the Midwifery Profession.

Professor Justus Akinsanya (1936 – 2005)

Professor Justus Akinsanya was appointed the first BME Nursing Professor at the Dorset Institute, (now Bournemouth University) in 1985 and three years later became the first BME nurse on the English National Board for Nursing and Midwifery.

In 1989 Professor Akinsanya became the first nurse appointed Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor at Anglia Polytechnic University.


Nursing & Midwifery

Chief Kofoworola Abeni Pratt. An African Florence Nightingale

Chief Kofoworola Abeni Pratt was a pioneer in many ways. From Nigeria, she was the first black student to attend the Nightingale Training School for Nurses (1946-1949) even though her father disapproved of her career choice. She was the first black nurse to work for the NHS and was based at Evelina and St Thomas’ Hospitals.

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-1992) Credit: Museum London

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915-1992)

In 1950, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1910-1992), became the first qualified black nurse to work in the NHS, having completed her training at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

She returned to Nigeria in 1954 to follow in Nightingale’s footsteps by establishing a nursing school in 1965 which laid the foundations of modern nursing in Nigeria today. During this same time, she also became Chief Nursing Officer for Nigeria and the first black woman to become Vice Presenident of the International Council of Nurses.

READ: ‘ ‘An African ‘Florence Nightingale’ – a biography of Chief (Dr) Mrs Kofoworola A. Pratt’ by Dr Justus A. Akinsanya



bottom of page