July 2020 marked the 72nd birthday of our beloved National Health Service (NHS) and against the backdrop of one of the most challenging years in its history, we spoke to Dr Narayan Rao who joined the NHS on its 18th Birthday in 1966.
Throughout the 1960s, the Ministry of Health worked very closely with the Ministry of Labour to maintain the flow of overseas doctors at a level necessary to ensure the smooth running of the NHS. Ironically, the author of the infamous Rivers of Blood? speech, Enoch Powell, was the Health Minister between 1960-1963.
Today, we celebrate the fact that we have nearly 25,000 Indian medical professionals in the NHS, but it didn t feel like a celebration when Dr Rao first came to the UK in 1966. Many immigrant medical professionals felt that opportunities were prioritised for the locals.
With six years of Medical Registrar experience from Madras (Chennai), Dr Rao brought references from India to get his first job in London. He recalls his first British mentor, Professor Eric Stroud, having a diverse team of doctors spanning the Commonwealth. Dr Rao feels grateful to date for Professor Stroud's initial support to further his opportunities in the UK.
Dr Rao's journey went from Edinburgh, Liverpool, Shrewsbury and then finally settling in the Black Country, taking over a GP surgery in Great Bridge in 1973, until he retired in 2001. He recalls that in the beginning his patients and the surgery staff treated him as the outsider?.
It took time patients and staff became confident with me through the service I provided. One of his fondest memories was the community events he organised, such as the tea parties in the local church where he not only got to know his community, but provided a diabetes checking service. As time went on, the NHS changed as did running a General Practice, with the most significant change being the fact that it became less family orientated to a more centralised, less community-based environment?.
Dr Rao talks proudly of the diverse patient base, which led him to build strong local interfaith links. His motto is Unity in Diversity? and his life's work is being the Founding Trustee and Chairman (1974 -2016) of the Shri Venkateswara Balaji temple in Sandwell, West Midlands a premier Hindu institution in the UK and the biggest in Europe.
Visitors will note it is more than a place of worship, attracting and bringing together a remarkably wide cross-section of Hindus from all over the UK and beyond. It also attracts other faiths into this vibrant, thriving community. This unique national monument has elevated the fame and repute of the Sandwell area such that it featured in the Queen's Christmas Message in 2006.
Dr Rao's story is a true example of elevating the community that you are part of. Congratulations to Dr Rao and all other members of the NHS who are celebrating their 72nd birthday.
Raaj Shamji a.k.a. Roving Raaj is a West Midlands, UK, based media personality and a Roving Reporter for iGlobal?.