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Racism experienced by nurses ‘costing lives and safe care’

Racism experienced by nurses ‘costing lives and safe care’

The racism and harassment experienced by nurses from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds is costing lives and safe care, nursing leaders have warned.

A panel discussion at the NHS Confed Expo conference today heard from health leaders about the impact of race discrimination within the health service and the benefits of tackling it.

As part of the session, chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), Andrea Sutcliffe, highlighted how nurses from minority ethnic backgrounds – also referred to as the global majority – are more likely to experience bullying, harassment and discrimination than White staff, and are less likely to be appointed or promoted.

Black nursing and midwifery professionals are also ‘disproportionately’ referred to the regulator’s fitness to practise procedures, she said.

‘The racism that affects clinical professionals comes at a cost and that cost is safe care,’ added Ms Sutcliffe.

Nurses and midwives from the global majority ‘make an incredibly valuable contribution’ to health and social care services, ‘but they are not always valued as they should be’, she said.

The NMC is currently piloting a ‘welcome to the UK workforce session’ for newly arrived internationally educated nurses and midwives, and Ms Sutcliffe shared concerning feedback that those involved had shared about their workplace experiences.

‘What they tell us should shock us, but it doesn’t, because it happens too often to be a surprise,’ she said.

Highlighting some quotes from nursing and midwifery staff, she said: ‘When I asked for support, I was ignored. People were talking about me behind my back. I would go home after every shift and cry.’

This is ‘wrong and impacts on safety’, added Ms Sutcliffe.

‘Racism has a corrosive effect on your health and wellbeing,’ she said. ‘It undermines your confidence. It makes you feel unsure of yourself. It makes it difficult to ask for help when you need it.’

She added: ‘Health and social care is a team sport. If you can’t rely on your colleagues, the people you care for may suffer the consequences.’

Meanwhile, Yvonne Coghill, former director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) and director of her own consulting company Excellence in Action, pointed to latest data which showed nurses from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were ‘complaining bitterly’ about their experiences in the health service.

They are being bullied, harassed and are unable to progress, ‘as a consequence of the colour of their skin’, she said.

‘That is not fair. That is not right. It is not equitable. And what it also does is it costs money,’ said Ms Coghill, who is also a former deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

‘It costs lives. Because, if you are not cared for, it is very, very difficult for you to care.’

She noted recent industrial action carried out across the NHS, including by nurses, and said: ‘I suspect if we actually took a deep dive into people who are out on the picket lines, who are complaining, quite a substantial number of them would be talking about how difficult it is for them as Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in our NHS at this time.’

Ms Coghill said it was ‘an absolutely no brainer to focus on race’ in the health service to ensure that ‘we have high quality patient care, patient safety and patient satisfaction through a workforce that feels valued, appreciated, and ultimately motivated to continue working for the NHS’.

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