George Anibaba, Senior Innovation Manager at Health Innovation Kent Surrey Sussex, reflects on Black History Month 2023 and celebrates the #SalutingourSisters theme.

Wow what a whirlwind of a month, from NHS Sussex’s Black History Month events to NHS Confed’s BME Leadership Network lecture on Universalising the Best and the Empower Gala 2023!

I like to reflect and since my last reflective post on NHS75 and Windrush 75 (In pursuit of Health Equity: Reflecting on NHS75 and Building a Better Future) rather than lamenting this time, I thought I’d invite you to celebrate.

This Black History Month on the theme of #SalutingourSisters, I’ve been moved to reflect on the impact of many black women and all they’re doing to improve people’s lives through innovation, improvement and the day-to-day running of health and care services across multiple sectors either directly or indirectly.

Why does the contribution of Black, Asian and other minoritised groups matter?

The latest NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard report shows that staff from Black, Asian and minoritised groups make up almost a quarter of the workforce overall (24.2%). The analysis shows more than two-fifths (42%) of doctors, dentists, and consultants, and almost a third (29.2%) of our nurses, midwives, and health visitors are from Black, Asian and minoritised groups. The statistics are similar in adult social care. The landscape of healthcare in the United Kingdom is remarkably diverse and that’s a reason to celebrate!

Why does this matter though?

It’s a win-win. A diverse healthcare workforce ensures cultural competence and better care. It builds trust, improves clinician-patient relationships, and addresses health inequalities that persist among different ethnic groups. But that’s not all – diverse perspectives lead to more comprehensive research and innovation, making healthcare more effective and beneficial for all.

These contributions are not just a matter of equity and representation; they have a direct impact on the quality, accessibility, and effectiveness of healthcare services. The influence of Black women in UK healthcare date back to a time before the NHS and Windrush. Women like Frances Batty Shand (1815-1885), Annie Brewster, Princess Ademola of the Alake of Abeokuta, the paramount chief of Northern Nigeria and Princess Tsehai, the daughter of the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie (reference from ‘War to Windrush – Black Women in Britain 1939 to 1948 by Stephen Bourne) shattered multiple ceilings to contribute their skills and experience to humanity. We can’t forget the amazing Mary Seacole, who provided vital medical care during the Crimean War, and in more recent times Dame Dr. Elizabeth Anionwu’s work on sickle cell anaemia transformed healthcare in the UK and the list goes on.

Today, it is so heartening to see even more contributions from black women either as innovators or leaders influencing policy and efforts to tackle health inequalities and realise health equity.

As we celebrate Black History Month 2023, let us remember the invaluable contributions of Black African and Caribbean women in the fields of health and care. Their dedication, passion, and resilience have not only improved healthcare services but have also paved the way for future generations, breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes.

#SalutingOurSisters is not just a hashtag; it’s a celebration of the extraordinary women who have made and continue to make a significant difference in the world of healthcare and innovation. May their stories inspire us to recognise the potential within ourselves and empower us to make a positive impact on the world, just as these incredible women have done.

To my Mum, to my sisters, aunties, friends and colleagues, we salute you!