The Nigerian “PRIDE OF BRITAIN” – Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu

The Nigerian “PRIDE OF BRITAIN” – Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu

Professor Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu DBE FRCN is a British nurse, health expert, tutor, lecturer and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London.

Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu was born Elizabeth Mary Furlong in Birmingham, to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. Her mother, Mary Maureen Furlong, was in her second year studying Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge University. Her father, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu was studying Law at Cambridge University.

Her upbringing had been heavily affected by moving between institutions and family. She spent just over two years living with her mother, a relationship that ended when her stepfather, who didn’t accept her and drank heavily, started to physically abuse her. For much of her childhood, she was cared for by nuns, including several years in the Nazareth House convent in Birmingham.

Often harshly punished and humiliated for wetting the bed, she remembers being made to stand with a urine-soaked sheet over her head as a punishment for wetting the bed. In the book she recalls, that later in life when working as a health visitor, “I made sure to keep up-to-date with more humane treatments for bedwetting”. Nonetheless, she grieved leaving the convent to go and live with her mother. Every period of relative stability in childhood ended in sudden collapse. Following an unsettled childhood she qualified as a nurse, then health visitor. Shortly before her 25th birthday she suddenly found her father barrister and former Nigerian Ambassador to Italy & the Vatican, Lawrence Odiatu Victor Anionwu. She was to frequently visit Nigeria and later changed her surname to Anionwu.

Anionwu began her nursing career at a young age after being inspired by a nun who cared for her eczema. At the age of 16, she started to work as a school nurse assistant in Wolverhampton. Later on, she continued with her education to become a nurse, health visitor, and tutor. She travelled to the United States to study counselling for sickle cell and thalassemia centres as courses were not then available in the UK. In 1979 she worked with Dr Milica Brozovic to create the first UK Sickle Cell and Thalassemia counselling centre in Brent. The opening of this counselling centre pioneered the opening of over 30 centers in the UK using the Brent Centre as a model

In 1979 Anionwu became the United Kingdom’s first sickle cell and thalassemia nurse specialist, helping establish the Brent Sickle Cell & Thalassaemia Counselling centre with Consultant Haematologist Dr Milica Brozovic. In 1998, by then a Professor of Nursing, she created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London. She holds a PhD, was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the RCN. She retired in 2007 and published her memoirs Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union..

In 1990 at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, she was a lecturer and then later promoted to a senior lecturer. With the help of Professor Marcus Pembrey, Anionwu taught a course at the University College London that was for NHS staff members who worked with communities affected or at risk of sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, Tay–Sachs disease and thalassaemia.

Plaque of the ward named after Mary Seacole in Whittington Hospital in north London.

She was appointed Dean of the School of Adult Nursing Studies and a Professor of Nursing at University of West London. Here she created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at the University of West London until her retirement in 2007. In 2001,

Anionwu, along with Professor Atkin, wrote the book The Politics of Sickle Cell and Thalassemia. In 2005, she wrote a book, A Short History of Mary Seacole. In 2003 she became a Trustee and subsequently Vice-Chairperson of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal. Following the unveiling of the Memorial Statue at St Thomas’ Hospital in June 2016 she was appointed a Life Patron of the Mary Seacole Trust.

Anionwu is also a Patron of other charities

  • Sickle Cell Society
  • Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association UK
  • Vice President of Unite/Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association
  • Honorary Advisor to England’s Chief Nursing Officer’s Black & Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group.

Anionwu was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours for her services to nursing. In 2004 she was awarded the Fellowship Of the Royal College of Nursing (FRCN) for developing the sickle cell and thalassemia counselling centre. In 2007, following her retirement, she was appointed Emeritus Professor for Nursing at the University of West London.

In 2010 she was inducted into the Nursing Times Nursing Hall of Fame for the dedication to the Development of Nurse-led Services. She also received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award on Divas of Colour. Anionwu was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to nursing and the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal.Anionwu was awarded a Fellowship of the Queen’s Nursing Institute in October 2017.

In 2019, Janet Jackson presented Anionwu the Lifetime Achievement Award, at Pride of Britain Awards for all her works as sickle and thalassaemia nurse.

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