Qualifying as a nurse over half a century ago, local healthcare hero Savitri Cameron has dedicated her life to the NHS. She has seen enormous changes take place over her 52 years in service, not only working as a mental health nurse but training as a midwife, health visitor and community matron too.
Now 72 years old, Savitri is still working in the Community Nursing team at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, and will soon be celebrating her 52nd anniversary in the NHS, the same year the health service celebrates its 75th birthday.
Having been born into a family that experienced poverty first-hand, Savitri’s desire to help those in need has been a life-long passion. Savitri explained: “As one of six, my family struggled to pay my school tuition fees and I walked barefoot to school till I was 14. My family took out loans to pay for me to go to the UK for nurse training.
“Poverty had a big impact on me. It pushed me to work hard and gave me an incentive to get on in life. I even experienced bullying at school for not having any books, so I studied and studied and made my way to the UK where they were recruiting nurses.”
Making a big decision to move to the UK at age 20, Savitri landed in Heathrow in 1971 and travelled to a hospital in Scotland to start her mental health nurse training. She also completed her general nurse training and midwifery training there.
“The night charge nurse picked me up from the train station at 11pm when I got there and showed me the nurses’ home. The next day I collected my uniform and I’ve worked in the NHS ever since.”
Throughout her career, Savitri has played a huge part in developing services and working with families to improve the care they receive. In the 90s, she set up a Carers’ Group in Wharfedale Hospital and completed a Master’s in Health Service Management.
Despite this, Savitri decided to retrain as a Health Visitor rather than taking on managerial roles. She explained: “My mother inspired me to make sure all mothers and babies maintain a good standard of health and get the best start in life. Health visiting seemed to offer a unique opportunity to be part of genuine community development.”
She went on to set up a hugely successful weight control group, and made important progress in ensuring members of the Asian communities she was working with at the time were able to get health advice for issues which, for cultural reasons, were often hard to address.
In addition to working for the Trust, in her spare time Savitri has worked in out-of-hours centres to build her experience. She used her mental health training to work in a forensic psychiatric unit and she became an inspiring mentor to many students.
Her work was recognised in 2000, when staff at the Care Trust nominated her to attend the late Her Majesty the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, which she went to with her husband.
Now a community matron, the mother of two’s passion to help others has never stopped. She said: “After retiring twice I came back to work at the Trust both times, initially working part-time but I ended up taking on more hours. I am also selling some of my annual leave this year and will donate that money to the Trust’s charity, Better Lives, so that they can put it to good use.”
“I am comfortable now, and I’m not a selfish person so I like to help other people out by raising money.”
The charity uses the money donated and raised by its supporters to pay for extra equipment to enhance the care of patients across Bradford and help services to go above and beyond the NHS core offer.
Together with her husband, Savitri also supports the local rotary club with fundraising activities, including helping to collect money at events like bonfire night.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the dedicated nurse worked overtime in the vaccination centers across Bradford, vaccinating the Lady Mayor at Jacobs Well. She recently vaccinated the very last members of the public at both the Jacobs Well and St Luke’s vaccination centres before they closed.
Not only did she join thousands of nurses on the frontline, but Savitri also donated all the money she earned from her shifts to the Trust’s charity and to Help the Heroes.
Graham Whitfield, Site Manager at the vaccination centres said: “Come rain, wind, snow or shine, nothing is too much for Savitri to take on. If she can help, she is always front of the queue to offer it.”
“She even bought tubs of lollipops and stickers for children to take away with them and managed to have meaningful conversations with protestors, who ended up getting their vaccination after speaking with her much to all our surprise.
“Away from shifts at the centres, Savitri continues to be a kind-hearted and supportive colleague to all, offering herself as a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen and to give advice to anyone that needs it.
“I have only known Savitri a fraction of the time she has worked in the NHS, 2 of the 52 years, but those two years I will cherish and treasure forever. A true inspiration who I am privileged and proud to call a friend.”
While COVID-19 will remain a pivotal moment in many people’s careers, for Savitri the highlight of her career was back in her health visiting role. She said: “My most memorable experience during my time at work was delivering my first baby – I’ll never forget that.”
On her time working in the NHS, Savitri added: “Out of 52 years I have spent in the NHS, I have worked at Bradford District Care Trust for 27, nearly 28. This is because of the support and nurturing I have received from senior management and for this I want to say a big thank you. My colleagues make it a pleasure to come to work every day.”
James Cooke, Head of Service at the Care Trust said: “Savitri has made an outstanding difference to the families she has provided care for here in Bradford. She is a constant inspiration to me and her colleagues who love working with her. We can all learn a lot from her generosity and kindness.”