‘My boss made me move bay because of patient’s racist abuse’

Congress gasps as Kenyan nurse recalls how abusive patient questioned her ability

Shocked congress debate hears how Evaline Omondi was treated when a patient questioned her professionalism

A shocked RCN congress audience listened as nurses shared their experience of patients’ racism as they called for action on harassment at work.

The speakers recalled patients questioning their nursing ability on grounds of race, with some asking to be cared for by other staff.

The NHS has a zero tolerance policy to violence and harassment of staff by patients or their relatives.

However, the hall heard calls for better support, including mandatory training to increase individuals' confidence in addressing such incidents.

Evaline Omondi
Evaline Omondi: 'I picked up my
stuff and with my head bent low I
had to move to the next bay.'
Picture: John Houlihan

Kenyan nurse Evaline Omondi of RCN eastern branch, described an experience she had while caring for 12 women on a night shift.

‘One of the patients boldly stood up and questioned my ability as a nurse,’ she said.

‘The other patients were amazed at what she said, and were not very happy.’

Shocking response

The matter was eventually escalated, but Ms Omondi was disappointed by her manager's response.

To audible gasps in the conference hall in Belfast, Ms Omondi said: ‘The manager took me aside and to my shock told me to go different bay, that I could not continue working there.’ 

‘I walked to the other bed, picked up my stuff and with my head bent low I had to move to the next bay.’

Beverley Baker
Beverley Baker received a standing
ovation when she exclaimed:
'Today we are saying no more.'
Picture: John Houlihan

Beverley Baker, of RCN Birmingham north and east and Solihull branch, shared a similar experience of racism.   

‘We were serving meals and one of the nurses came back and said the patient refused to eat,’ she said.

‘She said it was because he didn’t want to be served by a black person.’

United front

Ms Baker said, as the more senior nurse, she approached the patient, who repeated his demand.

‘I said: "Okay, you’re going to be very hungry today",' she said to laughter in the hall.

Ms Baker said the only way nurses could put an end to harassment and discrimination was with a united front.

‘It is shameful that the senior person told the nurse to move from that bay,’ she said.

‘Today we are saying "no more",’ she exclaimed, prompting a standing ovation.

Everyone's responsibility

Mitzi Wilson
Mitzi Wilson: 'If we do not condemn
this behaviour we are all collectively
accepting it.'
Picture: John Houlihan

Mitzi Wilson, of the RCN's Birmingham west and Sandwell branch, agreed that unity against harassment was needed.

‘We are all responsible, if we do not condemn this behaviour we are all collectively accepting it,’ she said.

She argued employers should have explicit policies on intolerance for harassment and provide regular training on how to respond to it.

‘Genuine commitment from management and colleagues will improve staff confidence and morale, and therefore benefit patient care,’ she said.

Social media attacks

Helen O'Boyle
Helen O'Boyle: 'We should include
abuse by social media'
Picture: John Houlihan

Helen O’Boyle of the RCN's inner north central London branch, added that recent cases of nurses and healthcare professionals being attacked on social media were unacceptable.

‘Staff, not just nurses, have been intimidated, spat at and been forced to enter their place of work via the backdoor to avoid crowds and the media,’ she said.

‘They’ve been called murderers and worse... staff have had their social media accounts hacked and/or photographed with their names shared publicly to shame nurses.’

‘We should include abuse by use of social media to intimidate or publish images or recordings of staff in our zero tolerance policies,’ she said.

More support needed

RCN Northern Ireland southern branch secretary Colleen White said government and employers had to do more to support nurses.

'They need to make sure nurses do not feel vulnerable or do not need to take a case themselves in courts,' she said.

'It should be the trusts taking the cases.'

Further information

In other news

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.