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Racism denied: don’t brush aside our everyday experiences

Long-awaited report is an insult to nurses, and ignores the reality of systemic racism in the NHS

Long-awaited report is an insult to nurses, and ignores the reality of systemic racism in the NHS

The long-awaited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published last week and it was a slap in the face to most black and brown nurses in the UK.

To be told by a government-sanctioned review that we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against minorities and that Britain is a beacon of multiculturalism goes against my experience and, I suspect, that of many other people of colour.

Race report denies the reality of my experience

I didnt have high expectations of the report but, even so, when I

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Long-awaited report is an insult to nurses, and ignores the reality of systemic racism in the NHS

Picture: iStock

The long-awaited report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published last week – and it was a slap in the face to most black and brown nurses in the UK.

To be told by a government-sanctioned review that ‘we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against minorities’ and that Britain is a ‘beacon’ of multiculturalism goes against my experience – and, I suspect, that of many other people of colour.

Race report denies the reality of my experience

I didn’t have high expectations of the report but, even so, when I saw its findings I felt sick to my core. It felt as if they had declared war on us.

I would have liked the government to listen to us, acknowledge our experiences of racism and take this into consideration; that would have given us an opportunity to work towards a common goal.

But now it seems the government is not going to work towards anything because it has essentially denied the existence of structural racism.

My experiences of routine racism and racial profiling

I know what racism is; I have experienced it all my life, at an individual and systemic level.

Growing up in Surrey in the 1970s and 80s, I was called ‘Niggeroni’ instead of Neomi by children I went to school with. They would often chant ‘there’s no black in the Union Jack’ and tell me to go back to my own country.

In 2019, I was stopped by the Metropolitan Police after working all day on a shift on the NHS front line – they said the tinted windows in my car were too dark. They said I obstructed a police officer because I initially refused to get out of my car and wanted him to move away from me because I was scared.

I am convinced I was stopped because I am black. I was arrested, locked up for 19 hours and put through the court system.

Court proceedings later established the window tints were within the legal limit. Although I was completely exonerated, I have yet to receive an apology.

This is my personal experience, but if we widen it out, we see that, as black and brown nurses, the system is clearly geared against us.

‘Evidence shows that black and minority ethnic staff are less represented at senior levels and have more obstacles to progressing in their careers. Is this not demonstrably a system “rigged against minorities”?’

Look at referral rates to our regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). It published a report in October 2020 that showed nurses and midwives from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be reported to the regulator for disciplinary proceedings and to see their case go to the fitness to practise adjudication stage, compared with white nurses and midwives.

Nurses of black African heritage made up 13.3% of new referrals to the NMC between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, despite forming only 7% of the register. Of concerns raised, 62% of investigations against black nurses resulted in no case to answer.

NHS acknowledges racial disparities for its workforce – but what does it do about it?

The same systemic discrepancies can be seen when you look at pay and progression. The commission’s report notes that there are disparities, even at the top of the NHS tree, with black male senior managers, for example, earning just 83p for every pound earned by their white counterparts.

The UK government has recognised that there is unfairness in the system, which is presumably why it introduced the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES).

But while it’s good to have the data, you have to act on it to quash the disparities.

Evidence from the WRES 2020 report shows that black and minority ethnic staff members are less represented at senior levels, have measurably worse day-to-day experiences of life in NHS organisations, and have more obstacles to progressing in their careers.

Is this not demonstrably a system ‘rigged against minorities’?

COVID-19 has shone a light on racial inequalities in healthcare

And then there’s COVID-19.

I founded Equality 4 Black Nurses last year in response to my profound shock at what I was seeing in the pandemic. From its earliest stages, it was clear that there was a disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff who were not only contracting COVID-19 but dying of it too.

In the light of that, the increased fear we experienced as black nurses, knowing that we are much more likely to die just from doing our jobs, was almost unbelievable.

We felt unprotected – and we didn’t feel listened to.

Establishment medal does not erase a lifetime of non-acceptance

Some years ago, I was awarded the British Empire Medal for my contribution to healthcare and innovation.

At the time I felt honoured and thought it was a beautiful thing; I loved the whole experience.

But after what happened to me with the police in 2019, after everything I have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and now this report, I question myself.

UK institutional racism makes me feel unwanted here in my country of birth.

It seems many people do not accept me, or many of my fellow NHS nurses, despite the fact that we continue to put our lives on the line.

A lot of people in the UK just see us as black and, to them, our achievements don’t mean anything.


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