by Professor Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University.
Amin Abdullah, an award-winning nurse who had overcome odds in life died after setting himself alight following dismissal from Charing Cross Hospital in 2015. Not only was Amin unfairly treated, but excessive delays in the investigation of his case were unwarranted and impacted on his mental health. Before the investigation that led to his dismissal, Amin had never had any mental health issues, yet he took his own life within five months of the incident. A Nurse’s Tragic Journey – YouTube
How was this allowed to happen? And why should we see Amin’s treatment as racist? During the initial investigation of allegations relating to Amin the Investigating Officer and the Hearing Chair, both of whom were of white ethnicity. brought Amin’s honesty into question on three issues and went on to suggest that his demeanor in the hearing was poor. The HR manager went on to suggest that Amin ‘had been untrustworthy during the course of the hearing” An independent investigation into the trust’s handling of the complaint and investigation found that the allegations that nurse Abdullah was dishonest were unjustified. Not a single instance of dishonesty was upheld. He should never have been sacked.
In the management response to Amin’s appeal letter regarding his dismissal, little attempt was made to understand Amin’s point of view and the word ‘untrue’ was used by management seven times. His RCN rep reflected: “I don’t think in all my cases, and I have done hundreds of cases, I’ve ever received such a lengthy and targeted response.”
Racialized charges of dishonesty have a long history. British colonial agents often used such charges against the colonised. Colonial and racist attitudes to Indians frequently saw them as naturally lawless, as ‘wild’ or ‘savage’. Sir Herbert Risley (1851–1911), a British ethnographer and colonial administrator, described one caste in his influential text The People of India as arrogant, megalomaniacs, liars and cheats (Risley, 1915, p. 149 ). Jasbindar Nijjar has argued that such attitudes of have impacted the harsher treatment that young Asian and Black men have received by the criminal justice system. (Nijjar 2018) Such stereotypical and racist ideas have not only been employed by ethnographers and policymakers but were consolidated in literary discourses too. Take the character of Mr Aziz in Forster’s A Passage to India, who in the novel is accused, by colonial agents, of being untrustworthy and as having attacked a white woman. Such deep-seated stereotypes appear to have played a role in the lack of compassion, measure, and consideration awarded to Amin.
Racism dehumanises. Amin told his partner Terry that he felt he was being bullied. His anxiety was such that he had been prescribed valium. Yet Amin’s vulnerability and declining mental health were not seriously considered by management at the time. Even when his RCN representative wrote to the Trust 10 days before he took his life about the detrimental impact of the delays to the investigation on Nurse Abdullah’s health, adding that they were affecting him “so much so that I believe an urgent referral to Occupational Health may be required’, nothing was done.
The racialised framing of Amin can also be seen in the management response to his appeal that highlighted an irrelevant section from the NMC code. It stated ‘you must make sure you do not express your personal beliefs (including political and moral beliefs) to people in an inappropriate way’. Yet Amin’s case had not contained anything of this nature.
Staff of colour have been victims of a large percentage of unfair dismissals and disciplinaries in the NHS as WRES (Workforce Race Equality Standard) data has indicated. The lack of trust in black staff impacted on the unfair dismissal of Black IT manager Mr Richard Hastings from Kings College Hospital Foundation Trust for example. The judge at his tribunal noted that Mr Hasting’s concerns were ‘not taken seriously due to stereotypical assumptions adopted by those in the disciplinary process’. “One of the most difficult things to accept”, Mr Hastings said, “was that it appeared that all my years of exemplary service to the organization counted for nothing”. (see a www.abetternhs.com for more examples)
Yvonne Coghill has highlighted how some trusts are even‘gaming’ the WRES data. Regarding the likelihood of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff entering disciplinary processes compared with white staff, Coghill has said: “Organisations are really clever, and they clocked on to this. If they take it formally it will be recorded, so what do they do instead? They do things like ‘performance management’ or ‘capability statements’ for people. (hsj.co.uk)
What is the consequence of racist behaviours by managers? And if managers collude to hide evidence of racism are they not signalling that such behaviour is acceptable?
In their conclusions and learning from Amin’s case, the Veritas report suggested ‘The evidence shows that the Investigating Officer repeatedly raised questions about Nurse Abdullah’s honesty on the basis of little or no evidence. She also failed to disclose evidence which was critical of her but which tended to exculpate Nurse Abdullah. The trust should consider the implications for the Investigating Officer’s integrity and, ultimately, her suitability for her role as a senior member of staff in the trust.’ Individuals close to the case have indicated that the Investigationg Officer not only did not loose her job following this investigation, but she has since been promoted by the trust.
The Imperial College Health Trust has posthumously apologised for the way in which Amin was treated. They have to their credit rewritten their disciplinary policy to ensure that dismissal hearings constitute a panel of at least three people including one external member with “knowledge, skills and experience that reflect the background and/or speciality of the employee in question”. In December 2020, Prerana Issar, the NHS chief people officer asked all trusts to review their disciplinary procedures in order to learn from Amin’s experience and ‘to ensure that our people practices are inclusive, compassionate and person-centred’. Robust, clear and fair procedures are valuable for all staff. Yet unless we call out racism directly and act on it as a disciplinary matter, we will not be able to stamp out such discrimination. We will not be able to see the links between staff experiences and the unequal experiences and outcomes in patient care.
Nursing Narratives: Racism and the Pandemic is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project which explores experiences of racism faced by nurses and health care workers during and before the pandemic. www.nursingnarratives.com
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