Dr Arnab Seal and Dr Sunita Seal

© Christian Sinibaldi

I was born in India, in a city called Howrah. I grew up there, mainly on the campus of the Engineering College, where Dad was a professor. My schooling and undergraduate medical education was in Kolkata and after that, I did my postgraduate degree in Mumbai.

I was just under 30 when I went back to Kolkata with my wife, who was also a paediatrician. At that time, in the early 90s, many people would come to the UK for some training and most people would then go back after spending 3 or 4 years in the NHS. We were having a conversation with my father, and while we had no intentions of coming to the UK at the time, he was very keen for us to as he had done his PhD in the 1950s in Sheffield. To him, it was a great experience of training, education and generally broadening horizons. A few days after this conversation, he was in the middle of teaching and suddenly died of a massive heart attack. It was such a huge shock and what he had been telling us about moving to the UK really stuck with us: we decided to pursue it.

A lot of our friends from our undergraduate days had moved over and were encouraging us to come, so we took all the necessary exams and moved to the UK in 1992 with the intention of training and then heading back.

I had chosen to be a paediatrician based on my interests, but also what was sought after at the time. Luckily, that speciality was also desirable in the UK and I worked for the NHS from 1992 until now, with a gap of 3 years between 1998 and 2001.

The first thing that struck my wife and I when we arrived was how quiet it was. We were staying in a small village north of Darlington and it was very rural: we didn’t see anybody on the streets or hear any noise. The house had log and gas fires, but no central heating, and as we arrived in February, the cold and damp came as a shock!

We’d caught a bus from London Victoria to Darlington and arrived around 11pm. While we were waiting to be picked up by our friends at the bus stop, a group of lads were walking down the street, smashing shop windows. We couldn’t really move anywhere as we had so much heavy luggage, and as they passed us, they shouted abusive, racist language and threatened us, saying, “Remember, you saw nothing!”

Racism was really overt back then. Thankfully, they didn’t do anything to us, but it wasn’t a great start to our time in the UK. Society is very different now, but there’s still some way to go.

Following our exams, I got a job in Rochdale, at Birch Hill Hospital. My wife got a job down in Exeter. Everyone within the NHS was so kind to us and we found people so polite: they would use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ several times in the same sentence. I did struggle with the Rochdale accent though, but everyone was so helpful: it’s not something we had necessarily been used to growing up. Other than getting used to accents, we didn’t really have any struggles here. Mostly, we just had to get used to processes and how things were done in the UK.

Overt racism in the NHS in the 1990s was not uncommon. There would be families where the parents or grandparents would swear at us or tell us not to touch their children. ‘Paki’ was also a very common derogatory term used to refer to anyone of Asian heritage. Thankfully times have changed, as back then we’d just walk off and get someone else to treat them. While overt racism is no more, there is still the issue of bias that needs to be addressed. However, the vast majority of colleagues are extremely distressed if the witness any racist incidents and are very supportive of co-workers who have migrated to the UK to join the NHS: the camaraderie, love and affection across the staff is incredible.

When I first came to the UK, I had already done my masters in paediatrics with a dissertation in paediatric nephrology, or children’s kidney diseases. I had also done about 5 years of paediatrics which was the equivalent of a senior registrar in those days. But because we were new to the NHS, you start at the bottom and work your way up in order to familiarise yourself with the system. It also allowed us to get to the required standards for higher positions. We also moved around, and in 1994, came to Leeds: that’s when I started in a registrar post, as did my wife. While there wasn’t the opportunity to pursue paediatric nephrology, I developed an interest and trained in paediatric neurology and children’s disability. Currently and for the past 20 years, I have worked as a specialist in childhood disabilities.

Alongside training and work, we were able to build our own community: some of our friends had also come from Calcutta, and even though we were working around the UK, we would meet up over weekends and enjoy time together.

We were very well treated by the NHS and constantly impressed by the quality of care that was provided. It was and is in stark contrast to the government-led healthcare system in India: that’s why some colleagues and I wanted to develop something better and more effective in the suburbs of Kolkata.

Between 1998 and 2001, we set up a hospital in Howrah and developed a Biomedical course that became accredited by the National Board of Medicine. It was extremely challenging, and my wife and I eventually made the decision to come back to the NHS as we felt that we needed to be able to have time with our young daughter, as well as a better work/life balance.

The best parts of the job are the children, the families and our teams. It’s terrific to follow children’s progress and truly getting to know and understand their lives before they move on to adult services. I also have an interest in teaching and education: I’m a senior lecturer with Leeds University and we worked on a master’s course, so have a team there too. I’ve also worked on textbooks on the topic of childhood disability and most recently, since 2019, I’ve been Chair of the European Academy of Childhood Disability.

I am very proud of my heritage and India is still a big part of my life, notably through my work with the European Academy of Childhood Disability and International Alliance, setting up systems within the child disability world. I also run workshops there and would love to further develop these systems in India. I sometimes get nostalgic about my childhood in Howrah, especially when I think of Bhatiali music, a style of Bengali music that is sung by fishermen on the Ganges. Those tunes provide comfort, even to this day.


I’m extremely grateful to have had my wife by my side from the very beginning. On one of our first trips back to the UK from India, we bought his and hers watches in the airplane duty free shop. We still wear them and they’ve been with us the whole time. It’s very special. I know that I would be very sad when those watches stop working.