Comment

It is not part of my job to accept racist abuse from patients

Organisations set the tone that allows BME and other staff to speak up, says Michael Baptiste

 Organisations set the tone that allows BME and other staff to speak up, says Michael Baptiste


Picture: iStock

As a mental health nurse with 20 years’ experience, I have often worked in general nursing settings doing one-to-one specialling of patients who need psychiatric nursing intervention.

It saddens me to say that in 2018 it is still common for black and minority ethnic (BME) staff to be racially abused by patients on general wards.

Abuse ignored or not acted on

When racist abuse is reported, in most cases it will not be acted on. Sometimes we behave as though it's part of our job to take such abuse.

Some BME staff are labouring under the misconception that they should ignore abuse, because it may be considered unprofessional to be upset or hurt by racist comments made by patients.

‘Racial abuse will not simply disappear because staff and managers refuse to recognise it or find it hard to deal with’

They believe they should not make a fuss and just get on with their job; they may even offer a patient’s illness, confusion, old age or mental ill health as the reason for the abuse.

I accept that it can be difficult to challenge abuse from patients who, for whatever reason – be it their illness or the effect of medication – are not in full control of their behaviour.

But when a patient calls you a monkey, black prat or black bastard and tells you to go back to your own country, these are racist comments and never acceptable. No one should have to suffer racial abuse, and it is certainly not part of my job to put up with this.

Affects morale and performance

Racial abuse will not simply disappear because staff and managers refuse to recognise it or find it hard to deal with.

It could be argued that nurses and managers on general wards are less aware of these issues than those in mental health settings, where staff may have more experience in handling or challenging unacceptable behaviour.

But this is no excuse. It is the manager’s duty to respond when any nurse on their ward is abused by a patient. When staff are racially abused, it should be addressed. If it is not, it becomes institutionalised.

Moreover, racial abuse in the workplace affects the performance of an organisation by creating a climate of isolation and hostility. 

It has the potential to reduce the efficiency and work performance of employees subjected to such abuse, and in a wider sense will inhibit the development of staff potential and can also affect retention.

‘Organisations and managers should show their commitment by publishing a policy statement that makes it clear that racial abuse from patients will not be tolerated’

We should have a climate of responsibility that makes such abuse unacceptable. Employees’ right to work in an environment free of racial abuse should apply not only to abuse by colleagues, but by anyone else they deal with at work, including patients.

Giving people the courage to speak out

Organisations and managers should show their commitment by publishing a policy statement that makes it clear that racial abuse from patients will not be tolerated. This policy should be displayed in prominent positions in the workplace and published in patient information leaflets.

It should become part of the ethos of the organisation, giving anyone who is racially abused, or who witnesses someone else being abused, the confidence to raise the matter and the courage to speak out.

Management should also designate a senior member of staff to deal with cases of racial abuse from patients.

If informal action proves insufficient to deal with persistent acts of racial abuse, management should reserve the right to take further, formal action, including considering withdrawal of services from the patient.

While none of this would not be a panacea for the ills of racism in our healthcare settings, it would send a clear message that racism is not part of any nurse’s job.


Michael Baptiste is a mental health nurse

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