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Farewell to NHS pioneer June

DEDICATED: Kofoworolla Baden-Semper, known as June, was awarded an MA in health facility planning in December 1985

IN THE YEAR that we are marking the 70th anniversary of the birth of the NHS, we mourn the passing of one of its early pioneers, Kofoworolla June Esme Baden-Semper, who died on October 3, 2018.

June, as she was fondly known, was born in La Brea, south Trinidad, on November 20, 1933, the eldest of eight children. ‘Kofoworolla’ is a Yoruba name meaning ‘wealthy in all ways’.

Aged 19, she left Trinidad and Tobago for England to begin what blossomed into an illustrious career in nursing and hospital administration.

Her arrival in England, four years after the Windrush, numbered her among that generation of Caribbean nurses that was so pivotal to building the National Health Service, then in its infancy, and the public health infrastructure in Britain.

The adulation of that generation and its contribution to building post-war Britain typically varnishes out the pricetag in human dignity that was fixed to it.

In a climate of the racist and xenophobic anti-black hostility that defined this nation at the time, black nurses were frequently racially abused by those to whom they were rendering care and told: “Get your filthy black hands off me”, or “go and get a white nurse to attend to me and go back to where you came from”.

Others would contrive to get black nurses into trouble with nursing supervisors. Yet, against those odds, June excelled both in clinical practice and in nursing management and hospital administration.

Operating theatre nursing became her specialism, to the extent that in 1974 she was put in charge of phasing out the Operating Department at the old Royal Free Hospital on Grays Inn Road and was centrally involved in commissioning the Operating Department at the new Royal Free in its present location in Pond Street, Hampstead.

In 1976, she was appointed Nursing Officer at the Middlesex Hospital in the West End, where she was responsible for the management of 11 Operating Theatres and their attendant services, the training of operating theatre assistants and staff nurses and the procurement and management of equipment and supplies to the operating theatres.

In 1978, she was appointed Senior Nursing Officer in the Operating Department at the Royal Free, a post she held until 1985. When Margaret Thatcher reorganised the administration of the NHS and got rid of the matron as a senior managerial position, June was made redundant.

However, June continued her studies in health facility planning and in December 1985 was awarded an MA in that subject by the Polytechnic of North London. This qualified her even more to offer her services as a freelance consultant to individual hospitals and health authorities.

Until the end of her life, June remained dedicated to public service and the arts, collaborating with other pioneers such as Pearl Connor-Mogotsi, Geraldine Connor, Yvonne Brewster, Dame Jocelyn Barrow and, always, with the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission.

She is survived by six siblings and many nephews, nieces and other relatives.

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