A renowned entrepreneur, Baroness Manzoor’s commitment to raising quality standards in a diverse array of sectors ranging from healthcare, law, racial and gender equality have drawn widespread acclaim. In 1998 Baroness Manzoor was awarded the C.B.E by the Queen in recognition of both her services to the NHS and also her work in improving race relations in the UK. She has also been awarded countless national awards and holds three Honorary Doctorates in recognition of her outstanding work.
Recognized for ushering in sweeping reforms in the NHS, Baroness Manzoor’s determination for ensuring the effective delivery of quality healthcare was largely motivated by the tragic death of her father, a retired soldier, from a heart attack when she was in her early twenties. This harrowing experience laid bare the shortcomings of an inadequate out of hour’s primary healthcare system and had a profound impact on her. Having witnessed firsthand the despair of drug addiction through her work at the NHS, Baroness Manzoor addressed this contentious subject in her maiden speech at the House of Lords.
Born in Pakistan, Baroness Manzoor’s family moved to the UK when she was a child. She was particularly close to her father who inspired her to scale unprecedented heights in her career. Forthright and open, Baroness Manzoor does not shy away from difficult subjects. She talks to Blue Chip about her dedication to helping the most vulnerable in society and her plans for the future.
In your maiden speech you addressed the problems related to drug addiction, what are your views on increasing calls for drug decriminalization in the UK?
Zahida Manzoor: “My maiden speech was on drugs, the reason I did that is because I am extremely passionate about the effects of illegal drugs on our society. Drugs are a scourge on families’ lives as well as society. We really need to tackle this issue. It’s a hard issue: I understand why people want to decriminalize drugs but my personal view, having worked in the NHS for a long time, and witnessing what some patients and families have gone through is, I don’t think decriminalizing drugs is the answer. But people who take drugs need more cohesive access to the NHS, they need treatment and care and should not be faced with criminal charges. Addiction to drugs is horrendous and affects all levels of society and many lives are unnecessary lost thorough it. It is a growing problem and one which must be tackled.”
You have brought in far reaching reform in the NHS, what motivated you to do this?
“My motivation has always been about making a real difference in people’s lives no matter what field I have worked in: whether it has been in health, the legal sector or the equality sector. I feel that if you are in a position of authority but you are unable to make a difference then you really shouldn’t be in that position. My motivation is trying to ensure excellent, accessible and equitable services are available for everyone while at the same time trying to identify where we can continue to make further improvements and develop innovative new services.
My father died when I was in my early twenties from a heart attack. I have never forgotten the despair and the heartache my family went through. My view to this day is that there was a perhaps a failure in the standard of care given to him. My father died at home, from a heart attack, despite been seen by a locum doctor, who had left him pain killers, earlier that evening. He was an ex- soldier who clearly had been in a lot of pain to have called a doctor….So for me it’s important that there are high standards in the provision of NHS services, training and research. Although, we have the best Health care system in the world, which is free at the point of delivery, for all, we must continue our strife to ensure standards are further improved…so it was an area where I wanted to make a difference. I am pleased that as one of the 8 people on the NHS Policy Board and who oversaw the NHS performance, I have been able to put into action some of my beliefs.”
You have worked on raising race equality standards, what are your views on the state of equality in the UK?
ZM: “We have moved a long way in terms of race equality and gender equality in the UK. My parents used to recollect, there used to be some guest houses after the Second World War, which displayed signs which stated “No Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks. You wouldn’t see that happening today; we have moved significantly in terms of race and gender equality from those days. I am very proud I have been able to play a little part in helping to bring about those improvements in my role as Commissioner for the Commission for Racial Equality. and as its Deputy Chairman.
But despite the great strides we have made there is still a lot to do. If you look at gender equality in this country, although we are getting an increasing number of women in board positions, the reality is if you look at the FTSE 100 companies, you don’t get many women chairmen or many chief executives who are women.
It is even more difficult for women from ethnic minorities, they face not a glass ceiling but a concrete skirting board. I have often talked about the fact that they have suffered from gender and racial discrimination and in some cases religious discrimination too. There is a lot more we need to do regarding ethnic minority women.”
You have done much to improve the legal profession in the UK, what led you to do this and what is your view on current legal standards?
ZM: “It is very important for any country to have a fair and just legal system and to have confidence in the independence of the rule of law. Most people will go to their barrister or solicitor during times of stress: somebody has died, a divorce, custody of children, buying a house. So therefore we need to make sure that the system we have in place is very fair, reasonable, open and accessible to all. I think in England we are very lucky that we have some of the best legal practitioners in the world and I am very proud of that, but equally there are practitioners that do not uphold those standards. My role working as the Legal Services Ombudsman and as the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner was to try and ensure those standards were upheld and that the legal profession improved on those standards where there were failings. However on the whole we have a fair and transparent legal system in the UK which I am very proud of and we have some of the best legal practitioners in the world.”
You were a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) for six years what are your views on tackling child cruelty in the UK?
ZM: “Children are among the most vulnerable people in our society, they are our future and how we treat them demonstrates our humanity. As a society, I believe, it is our duty to help the weak and the vulnerable, whether these are children, people with disabilities or the old. As a trustee of the NSPCC I was very privileged to work in an area where we could try and stop cruelty to children in all its forms. Even though I am not a trustee anymore, I continue to fight and support the cause in any way that I can.”
You recently came back from Bosnia, what are your impressions of the country?
ZM: “It is a beautiful country, the people are kind hearted, very welcoming and passionate about their heritage. I found my visit particularly emotional, what happened in Srebrenica was appalling. It was heartbreaking to hear stories from mothers who had lost their husbands, sons and nephews. To learn that in one day 8,000 young men had been slaughtered was absolutely horrific. This happened in our time, in broad daylight and in a European country. It goes back to ensuring that hatred for any ethnic group must be stamped out. It is not acceptable that this was allowed to happen and in such a scale.
I have tried to speak out wherever I see injustice. We must not forget what happened because by remembering history hopefully we can prevent it from happening in the future. There must be greater tolerance and love for each other, of understanding differences and for working together to improve humanity; no matter where or who we are. I find it very difficult to understand how war and killing people, often the vulnerable, women and children can bring greater benefits or peace to mankind.”
Are you seeking to scale your objectives to an international level?
ZM: “I have spent my life working to improve services in the UK and yes it would be very exciting to broaden that work to an international level, particularly, in the areas of health and education in the Middle East. I have a particular interest in Public health and Primary Care and in the education of women. I am also interested in services for migrants, ensuring that they have access to good housing, medical services and support. I would also like to help and support initiatives to remove injustices whether it is stamping out polio, TB, increased levels of sanitation and improved infrastructure in developing countries.”
Over your illustrious career, who have been your role models?
ZM: “My greatest inspiration has been my father. My father was someone who was dedicated and passionate about education and for the promotion of an individual realizing their full potential through it. He taught me that being a woman should hold no barriers in my life and told me that I was no different to my brothers. In giving me that confidence and instilling values of right and wrong, I think there can be no greater gift than that.”