GPs celebrated in digital exhibition highlighting key role of migrants in the NHS

The vital role played by GPs and other health professionals who have moved to the UK to work in the NHS through its 72-year history is highlighted in a new digital exhibition.

Dr Raj Khanchandani in 1963 (Photo: Migration Museum)
Dr Raj Khanchandani in 1963 (Photo: Migration Museum)

The Heart of the nation: migration and the making of the NHS exhibition at London's Migration Museum features personal stories contributed by GPs and their families who have moved to Britain over the past 72 years.

The exhibition points out that migrants have played a key role in the NHS 'ever since its inception in 1948' - but that their story has been ‘largely ignored’.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how the NHS relies on 'people from all over the world' - and when staff from minority ethnic backgrounds have disproportionately lost their lives working on the NHS frontline - the event aims to shed light on the personal stories of care givers, and the personal challenges they have faced.

NHS workforce

Around a quarter of NHS staff are non-British nationals or from a minority ethnic background, rising to around a third of nurses and health visitors and almost half of doctors.

Heart of the Nation is a multimedia exhibition that shines a light on the efforts of the migrant workforce. It includes dozens of stories contributed by people who have moved to the UK to start work in the NHS.

Visitors will also be able to watch an animation by visual storyteller Tribambuka, narrated by author and poet Michael Rosen who himself was hospitalised during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artworks and photography will be on display too, while visitors will be able to submit their own stories to add to a growing collection.

The story of Luton GP Dr Raj Khanchandani, who ‘grew up in the NHS’ after his father moved to England and started working as a GP in the 1950s, will be one of the many accounts shared.

GP stories

He describes the beginning of his father's career and his work with the community: ‘In Luton at the time, there were a few hundred immigrants from India and Pakistan. And all of them were patients of my father. They all joined his practice because he could speak Urdu and Hindi. He was known as Dr Khan so the Muslims also took him to their heart. They knew he wasn’t a Muslim but they all liked him.

‘I get irritated sometimes because all my consultations start with, "Dr Raj. How are you? How's your mother?" And then they will tell me stories about my dad. And by this time, five minutes are gone. It’s only a 10-minute consultation.’

But Dr Khanchandani adds: 'We have families that have been patients in our practice since the forties, and they love the fact that they have been seeing a GP from the same family since 1964.'

The exhibition launches on Monday 5 October, while a physical display at the Migration Museum in Lewisham will be launched in late October when the venue reopens.

Exhibition curator and head of creative content at the Migration Museum Aditi Anand, said: ‘As the outpouring of affection during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the NHS is a source of national pride and is often painted as a distinctly British success story. Yet the NHS simply wouldn’t exist without the generations of people from all over the world who have built, grown and staffed it.

‘Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.’

You can visit the online exhibition here.

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