Celebrating the pioneers and following our future leaders: a reflection on diversity and inclusion in healthcare

December 15, 2020

Written by Ayobola Chike-Michael, Patient Safety Project Manager & Zoë Lelliott, CEO of Health Innovation Network

Our Diversity Pledges

Read about the AHSN Networks commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion here.

As we round out 2020 and head into a new year—one that many of us have higher hopes for—it’s important to reflect on the progress we’ve made, areas that still require work and where we go from here.

This year, we have seen historic conversations being held on a global scale around the racial injustices and inequalities that plague our social and health systems. This dialogue has largely come as a result of the disturbingly and disproportionately high Covid-19 mortality rates among Black and minority ethnic populations, as well as brutal instances of systemic racism that have occurred internationally.

We have seen examples of this conversation transitioning into positive action across the health and care system, such as the development of NHS England’s London Workforce Race Strategy published in October. Within our own organisation, we are striving to listen to and learn from the experiences of our people, build up a culture of antiracism and meet our AHSN equality and diversity pledges. We know that we still have a lot of collective work to do, both as an organisation serving south London’s population and as a wider system, and we take this responsibility seriously.

As an organisation that works to speed up the best in health and care through innovation, we collaborate with professionals from many walks of life, diverse backgrounds and rich culture every day, all with a commitment to making our healthcare services across south London the very best they can be.

At the Health Innovation Network (HIN), we know that an imperative part of creating and sustaining necessary change is championing the work that has been and is currently being done to create a more equal, diverse and inclusive healthcare system, both for our south London community and beyond. This would not be possible without the work of past, present and future Black leaders – pioneers and voices of equality in our system, both prominently and behind-the-scenes.  

Past leaders 

At the HIN, we pay homage to those who helped pave the way for diversity and inclusion in the NHS, such as the very first black medical surgeon in the British Army, James Africanus Beale Horton (1835 – 1883) who studied medicine here at King’s College, London. Even though his parents were enslaved, his intellectual talents were spotted early by local church leaders who educated him in Sierra Leone, where he later received a British War Office scholarship.

We celebrate pioneers like Kofoworola Abeni Pratt (1915 – 1992), the first black nurse in the NHS, who gained her state registration in 1950 after studying at St Thomas’ Hospital’s Nightingale School. Following Nigerian independence in 1960, she became the first black matron of University College Hospital, Ibadan, and became Chief Nursing Officer for Nigeria in 1965.

Present leaders

Moving to the present, in October, the HIN was privileged to meet nurse, entrepreneur and inventor of the award-winning Neo-slip Neomi Bennett BEM. Neomi spoke openly to staff at the HIN about her experience of racism in UK society and our healthcare system. She explained how she was compelled to clear her name following a conviction for police obstruction – a fight that inspired her to begin the Equality 4 Black Nurses group, which seeks to tackle workplace discrimination. Without her determination, the NHS may have lost out on the revolutionary Neo-slip she invented during her nursing years. The simple design has improved the lives of countless patients who have struggled with hospital tights.

We continue to look to the example of other prominent Black leaders in the NHS like Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Professor Anionwu works for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust as a health visitor and tutor working with Black and minority ethnic communities in London. She helped create the very first nurse-led UK Sickle and Thalassaemia Screening and Counselling Centre in Brent, and is a senior lecturer in Community Genetic Counselling, continuing to enrich the lives of the communities she works with.

We are inspired by leaders like Professor Laura Serrant, the first Black head of nursing at a UK university, as a voice for addressing system inequalities. Professor Serrant was awarded an OBE for services to nursing and health policy. Her academic work focuses on racial and ethnic inequalities and cultural safety and her achievements include developing a framework for conducting research with marginalised communities – ‘The Silences Framework’.

Future leaders

Behind the scenes, great work is being carried out every day by Black colleagues in our south London community.

Watch out for Lelly Lelosa Oboh, a Guy’s Hospital consultant pharmacist. She is the first community-based consultant pharmacist in the UK and has been made a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain for the importance of her work. She uses her professional leadership role to drive positive change by reducing the risks and maximising the benefits of medicines for older people in community settings. Her influence in pharmacy best-practice has helped shape national policy and encourage the testing of innovative service models.

Our DigitalHealth.London programme recently announced their third cohort of Digital Pioneer Fellows, NHS staff from clinical backgrounds who are paving the way for the future of digital transformation and innovation in the NHS. This year’s Fellows represent a wide variety of backgrounds, roles within the NHS, geographies—both embedded across south London and beyond—and ethnicities. We look forward to seeing the positive change they bring to our shared community.

We could go on and on to speak about the integral work being done by our colleagues. As an organisation full of staff who never cease to be inspired by our community, we promise that we will continue to celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of our NHS and do all that we can to support our Black colleagues each and every day.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Future leaders

Meet the 2020 Digital Pioneer Fellows and read more about their projects and the estimated impact.

Explore more