A voice for Caribbean health professionals in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean Nurses & Midwives Association UK (CNMA) officially started in January 2021. Marsha Jones, Maurina Baron, Jacqueline Gabriel-King, and Paulette Lewis, MBE came together with one purpose — driving change to improvement of health & social care, education, workforce and policy development for the nurses and midwives from the Caribbean coming into the National Health Service (NHS) system.
As president of the Association, Lewis continues her outstanding contribution to the NHS and her beloved charity work, activities for which she was awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2014. Lewis’ charitable work and commitment to healthcare also earned her The Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Jamaica in 2018.
“Everything we do is reflective of who we are. We want to ensure that there is equity in bringing all the different Caribbean islands and the various healthcare practices together”, Lewis noted in a conversation with Caribbean Today.
The CNMA management is clearly an indication of this inclusivity as Baron is an academic in midwifery and a consultant; Jones a practicing midwife and senior manager; Gabriel-King head of midwifery; and Lewis a management consultant in nursing and midwifery and former president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica UK, all representing various islands including Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.
Although her passion was to pursue nursing, Lewis studied education/teaching in her native Jamaica. It was not until she migrated to the United Kingdom in 1977 that she trained as a nurse and midwife, finally following her heart. By 2005, she would become one of the 3% Black Minority Ethnic (BME) executive nursing directors in the UK.
After more than 35 years in healthcare, the semi-retired Lewis is determined to bring more black and minority ethnic nurses and midwives into the NHS. She sits on two NHS Boards as non-Executive Director and is active in management consulting, coaching, and mentoring across the sector. Lewis is also Chair for the BME Forum and Management/Leadership Consultant across the National Health Service and social care.
A major focus for the Association is to help newly recruited nurses and midwives from the Caribbean navigate the new system and settle in. Lewis noted that some new recruits face discrimination and adversity, and this is what the CNMA works to address.
“A lot of my time lately is spent advocating for international nurses and midwives and health professionals who have come to this country. We haven't got as many nurses and midwives as we require here, so there is international recruitment from across the globe, from the Caribbean, Philippines, India,” explained Lewis.
“When they get here one of the things we have been doing is looking at how we can support them, integrate them into the system. And it's really important because we've had a number of Caribbean nurses and midwives who have been treated in a way that one would not have expected. They’ve been recruited through agencies and other means and they find that they end up working in nursing homes or a home setting, not the hospital they were expecting. Others have suffered discrimination and racism.”
The CNMA is even a voice for new Caribbean recruits before they land in the UK. Part of their outreach is urging potential healthcare workers to speak to the Association before they sign contracts and emigrate.
“Speak to us, because we are neutral. We are not saying don’t come, but we will give you a true perspective. It’s about talking to people who are already here to get the facts about what it is really like to come here, to work here.” Lewis emphasized.
She noted that without proper guidance some nurses and midwives come to the UK with their families with little or no knowledge about the school system for their children or employment opportunities for their husbands. Others settle in the UK, take the nurses exam and if they fail they are in limbo. These circumstances, Lewis added, negatively affect family relationships and marriages. This is why the CNMA’s webinars and meet & greet forums are so crucial.
“We are from the diaspora, we understand them and their culture. A lot of them coming here are very bright, they have lots of qualification, but they need coaching, mentoring, and they need support.”
Asked about the nurses strikes over the past year and how it impacted the Caribbean nurses, Lewis explained that it was a demonstration of how people felt about the way they've been treated, adding that COVID-19 also highlighted the inequalities of health and the value of Caribbean nurses. And although some decided to strike, she said, others did not, choosing instead to provide as much services as they could. it is not something they took lightly, but they want to demonstrate the strength of feeling in terms of better pay and to be better recognised.
“We are many nations, one voice. We want to be the voice of Caribbean nurses and midwives. As an organization we can improve the inequalities of health for the patients and the diaspora groups that we look after, and for those nurses, midwives, healthcare professionals that are part of this establishment.”