Is a ‘culture of keeping quiet and working hard’ costing Filipino nurses their lives?

Social factors that may be putting Filipino nurses at greater risk from COVID-19

Picture: Alamy

Filipino nurses and their families have raised concerns that social and cultural factors might be putting healthcare workers in their community at heightened risk from COVID-19.

They fear that marginalisation and a possible tendency to 'keep quiet and be extremely hardworking' may, in part, account for what looks like a disproportionate tally of deaths among Filipino nurses in the UK.

Official inquiry into impact of coronavirus on BAME communities in the UK

The government last week announced an inquiry into the impact the virus seems to be having on the UK's black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) populations.

A recent study of 2,249 patients acknowledged that despite making up just 13% of the UK population, a third of people who become critically ill with COVID-19 are from BAME groups. 

Filipino nurse describes 'flimsy' PPE 

One Filipino respiratory nurse told Nursing Standard, said: 'I have learned to speak out and lead a team, but some Filipinos who haven’t been here for very long are still very much in the Filipino culture of keeping quiet and being extremely hardworking. 

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‘It may be putting them at risk by not questioning or whistleblowing, whether that’s about PPE or additional hours.’

The nurse, who is caring for people with suspected COVID-19, described their working environment: ‘There are six patients in one open bay and we are in flimsy plastic aprons and surgical masks. You have a patient coughing in front of you and there is nothing you can do.’

Francis Fernando

Francis Fernando, former vice-president of the Philippine Nurse Association UK and deputy head of care of a private care home in London, said Filipino nurses with underlying health conditions had been contacting him about being pressurised into going back to work after self-isolating.

'Many Filipino nurses who have moved to the UK live alone'

The niece of nurse Donald Suelto, who died while self-isolating after displaying COVID-19 symptoms, expressed concern that Filipino nurses often lived alone having moved to the UK to work.

‘There are a lot of single Filipino nurses like my uncle working here,’ said Emylene Suelto Robertson. ‘Who is monitoring them if they have to isolate?

‘He died on his own and I had to call the police to ask them to break down the door. We didn’t even know where his body was being kept for some time.’

‘The staff most at risk are the most reluctant to raise concerns’

Roger Kline, workforce culture expert and research fellow, Middlesex University

Mr Suelto, who had worked for the NHS for 18 years, had asthma.

Hammersmith Hospital nurse Donald Suelto had worked in the NHS for 18 years when he died 

He told his niece, with whom he had daily video calls, that while working in the chemotherapy department of Hammersmith Hospital he had been coughed on by a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Ms Suelto Robertson said: ‘Uncle Donald didn’t have access to any PPE and this was one week after lockdown. He was an innocent victim who loved his job.’

Trust's 'strict' compliance with guidance on PPE use

A spokesperson for Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said: 'We are very saddened by Donald’s death and our thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and colleagues.

'We strictly follow national guidance on the use of personal protective equipment. Donald was not working in an area for COVID-19 patients.'

Evidence of reluctance to speak out about workplace worries

Speaking to Nursing Standard last week, NHS race equality expert Roger Kline said there was research evidence that BME staff were less likely to speak out when troubled by workplace issues. 

‘The staff most at risk are the most reluctant to raise concerns,’ he said. 

He pointed out that employers should have carried out equality impact assessments to determine whether staff from particular communities were especially at risk.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'We are working around the clock to give the NHS and the social care sector the equipment and support they need.'

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