Saluting our Sisters – celebrating Black women in history who have made key contributions to healthcare

October is Black History Month which is an annual celebration dedicated to recognising and celebrating the contributions of black people to society. It is a significant opportunity to reflect on the invaluable contributions of individuals in the NHS which has been profoundly shaped and enhanced by their hard work.

This year the theme for Black History Month is ‘Saluting our Sisters’ which highlights the role that black women have in inspiring change. Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board celebrated Black History Month (BHM) by having a special webinar. Guest speakers joined from different parts of our health service to share their personal career journeys. It was a great chance to reflect and look forward.

There have been some key women in history who have contributed to the healthcare system. One being, Mary Seacole who was a pioneering Jamaican nurse. She rose to prominence during the Crimean war where she cared for sick and injured soldiers. Mary nursed patients during cholera epidemics in Jamaica and Panama. At the time, Mary’s work as a nurse was celebrated in British newspapers and she was nearly as well-known as Florence Nightingale.

Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu was another influential black woman in health care. She was the UK’s first sickle cell nurse. During her long nursing career, she worked as a health visitor and worked closely with black and minority ethnic communities in London. At this time, she met many families affected by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is a serious and lifelong health condition and is particularly common in people of African and African Caribbean descent. Elizabeth went on to rise to the very top of the nursing profession becoming a senior lecturer in community genetic counselling at University College London’s Institute of Child Health. Elizabeth Anionwu made a lasting impact on the NHS and has helped to reduce health inequalities faced by black and minority ethnic communities in the UK.

It is important to look back and celebrate the great work of black women in healthcare and look forward to those who will continue this work. We would like to thank our staff at Gateshead Health who have contributed to making Gateshead a safe space for us all and keeping excellent patient care at the forefront. Gateshead Health encourages diversity and inclusion and we are proud of our diverse workforce who are making such an impact.