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Racism in the NHS: promotions twice as likely for white nurses

RCN survey shows that black and Asian nurses are often overlooked for promotions as in-person testimonies tell of experiences of everyday racism in the NHS

RCN survey shows that black and Asian nurses are often overlooked for promotions as in-person testimonies tell of experiences of everyday racism in the NHS

Black and Asian nurses have described their struggle to have their skills recognised and move up the career ladder as they continue to battle with everyday racism in the workplace.

Employment survey shows stark differences in promotion prospects according to colour

Their accounts of ongoing discrimination coincide with the publication of RCN research that shows white nurses are twice as likely to be promoted as black and Asian staff.

The findings from the college’s 2021 employment survey of more than 9,500 nurses, support workers, students and nursing associates were unveiled at the

RCN survey shows that black and Asian nurses are often overlooked for promotions as in-person testimonies tell of experiences of everyday racism in the NHS

Images of placards protesting inequalities in the NHS

Black and Asian nurses have described their struggle to have their skills recognised and move up the career ladder as they continue to battle with everyday racism in the workplace.

Employment survey shows stark differences in promotion prospects according to colour

Their accounts of ongoing discrimination coincide with the publication of RCN research that shows white nurses are twice as likely to be promoted as black and Asian staff.

The findings from the college’s 2021 employment survey of more than 9,500 nurses, support workers, students and nursing associates were unveiled at the RCN congress in Glasgow.

The survey found white nursing staff and those from mixed backgrounds across all ages were more likely than black and Asian colleges to have had at least one promotion since starting their nursing career.

The difference was most stark among those aged 35 to 44 years old. While 65.9% of white and 64% of respondents from mixed backgrounds in this age group said they had been promoted, this dropped to just 38.3% of Asian and 35.2% of black respondents.

Testimonies reveal extent of racism in NHS

This year’s Mary Seacole Lecture featured filmed testimonies from black and Asian nurses who took part in research by the University of Sheffield as well as in-person accounts from RCN members.

Black and Asian nurses talked about working in band 5 roles for many years while white nurses who had qualified at the same time as them – or they had helped mentor when students – quickly shot up the ranks.

‘If a band 6 or band 7 job comes up they would rather give it to a white nurse than a black nurse because they see us as second best,’ one nurse said in the Nursing Narratives film.

Nurses said they continued to face racism every day, which left them feeling lonely, paranoid and had caused some to quit the profession.

One nurse was asked if she ‘came from a terrorist background’ while another who mentioned feeling tired at work was told by a colleague: ‘It beats being a slave.’

They also described how nurses of colour were more often deployed to high-risk areas during the pandemic.

During a debate on inequalities in the diagnosis and treatment of ethnically diverse people later at RCN congress on Tuesday 7 June, nurses shared similar experiences.

Nurse Funmi Olagbegi told of how she applied for a band 7 job in her organisation and was told by her manager ‘I don’t think the job is for someone like you, no offense’.

The debate resulted in members of congress voting for RCN Council to lobby all health and social care providers and education institutions to account for the inequalities in the diagnosis and treatment of ethnically diverse people.

RCN calls for COVID-19 inquiry to focus on disproportionate deaths of ethnic minority nurses

The RCN is calling for the COVID-19 public inquiry to look at why a high number of nurses from ethnic minority backgrounds died during the pandemic.

It is also calling on the government to require health and care organisations, regulators and inspectorates to tackle racism as part of its planned reforms of human rights laws.

The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.


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