From Mauritius to Burnley: stalwart nurse on fighting prejudice and his love for the NHS

Burnley General Hospital
Burnley General Hospital

Having grown up in Mauritius in the 1960s, Maxwell became familiar with the concept prejudice from a very early age.

Having always harboured the dream of becoming a nurse, he found his opportunities severely limited in his home country, a land still under the oppressive glare of white privilege. Racism was the norm. “Growing up, I felt like I was on the other side of the looking glass; I was a brown boy in a white world," explains Maxwell. "I couldn’t get the same privileges white people did."

When Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968 and became part of the Commonwealth, a bright-eyed Maxwell seized his opportunity. He headed to England to pursue his dream of working in medicine, undertaking a nursing course at North Staffordshire Hospital in 1972 as one of only two men on the course. "When I came to England I saw things I never thought I would experience," he said. "I was suddenly part of this big wide world with a newfound freedom.

This year, he celebrates 40 years of working in the NHS.

Now based in Burnley, Maxwell works at the memory assessment service for Lancashire Care Community Foundation Trust at Burnley General Hospital, where he diagnoses patients with Alzheimer’s and helps them get the support they need. He is keen to share his story and to be a role model for the next generation of male nurses, particularly those from ethnic minorities.

Far from enjoying a prejudice-free existence on these shores, when Maxwell first arrived to start his studies, he was told that he only be considered for jobs if nobody else wants them by the matron of the hospital he was hoping to work at. “That level of discrimination stays with you for life," he said. "I still find it hard to think about it sometimes. I was given the jobs nobody wanted; I wanted to work in A&E but I was put in a back ward nobody was on.

Nevertheless, her persevered and got his PIN badge in 1975 and moved to Epsom Hospital in Surrey to work on a mental health ward. “It took me a while to understand what nursing was about and the value we put on it," explained Maxwell of his work in the NHS.

Now an ambassador for the campaign Nursing Now, a global movement which goes into schools to try and reduce the gender gap in the profession, and a special adviser for the Clinical Quality Commission, Maxwell has also worked with NHS England and NHS Improvement to share his story.

“My granddaughter asked me how I could be a nurse if I was a man and I had to explain it to her," he said. "To this day, the profession is more female dominated, but now I am in a place where I feel valued. Some people have the perception that nurses are the handmaid of the doctor, but far from it. We are justified in being assertive, we are eloquent and articulate, and we make a difference.

"I’ve been through ups and downs, trauma and depression and I was quite disillusioned – but I am strong now and I want to be a ‘change agent’ to inspire others," he added. "There are so many stereotypes but my story is one of collective resilience."

And his passion for his work has never left him. After retiring at the age of 65, Maxwell returned to work just two month later. “I love my job," he said simply. "Some people dread going to work at the start of the week but I have that Friday feeling every Monday morning.”