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Brian Belle-Fortune

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‘The NHS would not exist without immigration’

I’ve witnessed a hijacking but the victims are words and concepts rather than people. I’m talking about multiculturalism and immigration. In many ways both lie at the heart of the NHS.

I doubt the service would have survived without the immigration the UK has experienced over the last 60 years and, until recently, multiculturalism was seen as a positive force.

But we’ve had Trevor Phillips, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, describing Britain as ‘sleepwalking into a segregated society’. We’ve had the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali,

Bishop of Rochester, claiming Islamic extremists have created ‘no-go’ areas that are too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter. We’ve also had Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams suggesting the UK could see the adoption of Sharia law. Although he was quoted out of context, I was amused by one tabloid headline exclaiming: ‘What a Burkah.’

I was annoyed by BBC TV News showing a felon in Nigeria receiving punitive lashes, the inference being that this could soon be happening on your street. Once again, the fears unleashed by Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in the 1960s emerge.

It would be naive to say that integration into the UK has been without serious difficulties. I suspect there’s a cycle in which mass immigration is followed by an uneasy period of ‘settling’, which might be followed by riots, as was the case with Jewish, African Caribbean and Asian immigrants. Some argue that problems like racism have merely been suppressed beneath layers of debate-stifling political correctness. But it’s a shame that positive steps forward have been forgotten.

On one shift on the cardiac ICU, we had staff of 14 nationalities. Ill-health affects everybody, regardless of race. We nurse a steady troop of patients and know that sickness is multicultural.

My drive to work takes me through a cornucopia of communities. I can almost tick all the boxes found on ethnic diversity questionnaires. Eastern European, African, Asian, Kurdish, Jewish and British people live side by side, generally without problems. I’m not saying that everything in the multicultural garden is rosy. I’m not blind to the fact that legislation was enforced in order to facilitate this nation’s evolution of today’s multicultural society.

Nursing and the NHS have had to adapt to and accommodate the needs of a cosmopolitan group of staff and patients. Europe’s largest employer – the NHS – has accommodated differences rather than decried them. At its best, respect for the individual has been paramount.

I love the NHS’ cosmopolitanism and multicultural reality. It’s a fair model on which to base our nation’s future. It’s time this particular conceptual hijacking ended.

Brian Belle-Fortune is a student practice facilitator at Great Ormond Street Hospital

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