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New NHS exhibition highlights vital role of migrant workers

Nurses training at Royal London Hospital. Courtesy: Hornsey Journal

A NEW national touring exhibition created to mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS opens in Leicester this week. 

Heart of the Nation: Migration and the Making of the NHS will highlight the role played by migrant healthcare workers in building, and sustaining, Britain’s health service since the 1940s.

Created by the Migration Museum, Heart of the Nation opens at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery on Friday (30 June).

Featuring dozens of personal stories from people from all over the world, working at all levels of the NHS from 1948 to the present day, the exhibition will also include photography, film, newly commissioned artwork, unique artefacts and historical ephemera.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a newly commissioned interactive music and video installation, co-created by seven people currently working in the NHS.

An interactive healing space will invite visitors to reflect on their experiences and leave messages for NHS workers who have cared for them throughout their lives.

“For all its challenges, the NHS remains an immense source of national pride and is often painted as a distinctly British success story,” said artistic director Aditi Anand, who curated the exhibition for the Migration Museum.

“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.”

Deputy city mayor Cllr Adam Clarke, who’s responsible for Leicester’s museums, said: “The creation of the NHS in 1948 is one of the most important chapters in our history.

“It’s a fundamental part of all of our lives and we owe a great deal to those who created it and all those who work in it.

“Migrants have contributed to Leicester and the UK in countless ways, and their immense role in the making of the NHS deserves to be highlighted and celebrated, so I am delighted that Leicester Museum & Art Gallery will be the first venue to host this important exhibition as it starts its national tour.”

Dr Adil Akram, a psychiatrist working in the NHS and one of the co-creators of the exhibition’s music and video installation, said: “My father came over from Pakistan in the 1960s to practise as a doctor in the NHS – and I’ve followed in his footsteps.

“This exhibition is close to my heart – it’s about the contributions of people like my father who came to this country and spent their lives and careers helping to build the NHS into the fantastic institution it is today, that symbolises all the good things about the UK.”

Cllr Sarah Russell, deputy city mayor responsible for health, said: “When the NHS was founded 75 years ago, it was part of a vision for a better and fairer society.

“For the first time, healthcare was available to everyone in Britain, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Today the NHS is under huge pressure and faces significant challenges, but this exhibition is a celebration of the people who came to Britain from all over the world to help create our health service and who continue to sustain it today.

“We owe them, and all our healthcare workers, a huge debt of gratitude.”

The exhibition opens at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery on Friday 30 June and runs until 29 October. Admission is free. Its national tour will then continue in Leeds, in November, before moving to London during 2024.

Heart of the Nation can also be explored online at

The 75th anniversary of the NHS will be celebrated on 5 July.


Picture caption: Nurses training at Royal London Hospital. Courtesy: Hornsey Journal