History Lessons: Immigration, the NHS, and Fear of the Other

EIC Brandy Schillace interviews Professor Roberta Bivins, Centre for the History of Medicine Department of History, University of Warwick. Since 2015, Dr. Bivins and her colleagues have been asking what the NHS means to people in Britain, and how it came to have such emotional and political resonance. She also recently finished Contagious Communities, a study of the impact of post-war immigrationand particularly non-white immigrationon medical research and healthcare delivery patterns in the UK. Dr. Bivins looks at epidemic, endemic, behavioural and genetic disease from smallpox to sickle cell anaemia, to uncover deep connections between perceptions of the National Health Service and of Britain’s immigrant and ethnic minority communities.

On today’s podcast, Dr. Bivins speaks to latent fears of immigrants that, though unfounded, have underpinned rhetoric surrounding the NHS from its inception post-WWII. She describes how historical antecedents can help us understand where we are today, describing the ways in which the NHS has relied upon immigrants to function as skilled doctors and nurses from all over Europe work in the sprawling NHS system. How have cultures of fear hostility threatened England’s diversity and strength in the past—and what does that mean for our future?

Listen to the full podcast on Soundcloud.

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