We travelled the length and breadth of the country to meet some of the exceptional workers whose careers span the seven decades of the NHS. Pictured in places significant to their careers, they reveal their passion for medicine and for taking care of people.
Ben: When I collected Ethel from her home, she had already made me a packed lunch. This caring nature continued to shine through as she took time to chat to staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital during our photo shoot. Even after retiring from a career in radiography that started in the 1940s, Ethel is still actively involved in and passionate about the NHS.
Tom: There was seldom a moment of silence as Leslie and I drove to Guy’s Hospital, where he trained as a dentist through the air force, towards the end of World War II. Once we finished his portrait, we enjoyed revisiting his old haunts on the campus, including the Gordon Museum of Pathology, where he has lifetime membership.
Ben: For our portrait shoot, Joyce (now in her 90s) found herself outside the Royal Blackburn Hospital, being buffeted by Storm Hector. Her niece Jean had to cling to my light stand to prevent it blowing over, but former nurse Joyce remained unflustered. Hearing her crystal-clear memories of her life serving NHS patients was an absolute pleasure.
Ben: On our drive to the University Hospital of Wales, David’s Welsh accent had me captivated; the giant red dragon on the building’s exterior made the perfect backdrop for his portrait. David pursued a distinguished career in psychiatry and, now in his 90s, he is editing the fifth edition of his influential book, ‘Uncommon Psychiatric Syndromes’.
Tom: Oswald moved from Sri Lanka to the UK in the 1960s and helped form the Royal Free’s kidney transplant programme. His drive passed to his son Bimbi, who is now a consultant transplant surgeon at the same hospital. I learned that, remarkably, they both saved the life of the same patient via operations 34 years apart.
Tom: Cynthia hails from Belize; she came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation and trained as a midwife at Bedford Hospital. She was exuberantly warm and ever so patient, and though she couldn’t recall what led her to nursing it was clear to me that it was precisely this warmth that made her the ideal midwife.
Ben: On a sweltering afternoon I shot Cecilia’s portrait at St George’s Hospital, where she’d been a senior staff nurse. Part of the Windrush generation, she gleefully recalled that she didn’t travel by boat but, “By the BOAC!” – the British Overseas Airline Corporation. I was struck by the enormity of her choice to transport her life to another continent to serve the NHS.
Tom: Setting up outside Shiv’s former surgery attracted curious neighbours, who recalled that he was great with his patients and made himself available at any time of the day. Meeting Shiv in person, I learned more of his many accomplishments, from his role as a surgeon in India to working as a GP in the UK for some 30 years.
Ben: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Ben – we’ve been friends for decades. These days, he’s a consultant anaesthetist at Harefield Hospital in Uxbridge, so this project presented the perfect opportunity for our professional lives to finally cross paths. Thankfully, it was me doing the photographing and not him doing the anaesthetising!
Tom: I met Mandy at the Hull East Ambulance Station shortly after she finished her night shift; if she was tired, her stoic demeanour certainly didn’t show it. She has a gift for helping people feel at ease, and recounted tales from her travels and from many years working in the patient transfer service before becoming a paramedic.
Ben: On a busy street outside University College London Hospital, urological surgeon Sarah met me for her shoot. She’s one of the talented medics leading the NHS into the coming decades, and I was struck by her infectious, positive attitude to the future. Challenges, she said, were there to be overcome.
Tom: When I met nursing student Jenny at Anglia Ruskin University, it was clear that she had an innate and selfless desire to look after people. She told me all about how the work-experience placement with her auntie solidified her love for nursing and explained the most rewarding part of her job: seeing the joy of healed patients leaving the hospital.
About the photographers
Thomas S G Farnetti
Thomas is a London-based photographer working for Wellcome. He thrives when collaborating on projects and visual stories. He hails from Italy via the North-east of England.
Ben is a senior photographer for Wellcome. He is happiest when telling stories with his photographs, whether that be the health implications of rural-to-urban migration in India, or the dedication of the workers who power the NHS.