This is a nurse’s reality, written in confidence to protect against backlash.
When I decided to become a nurse all of those years ago, it was simply because I wanted to care for people; human beings as people. It would never have been the case that I only wanted to care for or work with those that were the same colour as me and to treat others differently. One of the things I learnt with certainty as I went through my nursing career was that Power was held by those that didn’t look like me and didn’t always have my best interest at heart. That hurt, because when that Power was used against me and denied me my first job as a newly qualified nurse, because of my skin colour, that really made me question what kind of a profession I was entering. I was taught through my training that nurses were caring people and had values, integrity. How naïve and innocent I was. Today, 25 years later, very little has changed. It is often said “there is racism in society then it must be in the health service too.” It really brought home the battles that I and many Black and Brown people face on a regular basis. They are often subtle racisms and microaggressions that build up and can make you very ill.
One nurse recently described how she put on her body armour every day before she would enter what she described as “the battleground”. For many Black and Brown people, this is how we wake up to a new day. Despite working incredibly hard and doing our very best we are often met with an additional heavy load to bare, where we encounter subtle discreet racisms and discriminations that keep you on your guard; it takes its toll on our mental and physical wellbeing. Is it any wonder that we have high rates of poor health across many measures when you read about the disproportionate bullying, harassment, additional scrutiny, denial of opportunities to progress dream and aspire to who you want to be?
When I read the case of Melanie Hayes last week, and the overt racism informed by historical lazy stereotypes, this was yet another example of how Black people and those from minoritized communities are often treated in the UK. This was me, I know the unit manager was racist and used her privileged to enable and empower those that looked like her. It was a real eye opener, the way she subtly denied all Black enrolled nurses the opportunity to convert to registered nurse status. It was ironic how they were always put to the back of the training queue when they almost reached the front. Black women could not complain because this unit manager had the Power. I mean really, who were they going to complain too? Very little has changed since then, the preference for Whiteness and the use of White privilege is very much alive. It is really sad that the place where we go to for care and to care can be more toxic than those spaces where that care is not necessarily to be expected. The “ health care service” can cost you your life and we all need to do all we can to make the system one that is caring and kind to all that use it and work in it. There was no question that the case of Melanie Hayes towards her fellow colleagues was outright racism and she even admitted use of derogatory words to describe Black people whilst making clear her preference to work in an all White team. For me this rang alarm bells. If this racist nurse could openly speak about her Black colleagues in that way, the question is how was she treating Black patients with mental health problems. Wasn’t this a consideration by the NMC in their decision to only suspend this individual for six months? This case brought to the fore concrete evidence of racism, yet the NMC still used White privilege and less care towards victims to bring about a less harsh outcome. If this was a student nurse on the degree programme where I lecture, that student would have been withdrawn from their training as they would not be deemed to have the right values and qualities to be a nurse. We often talk about how Black and Brown health care staff are treated more harshly by the system which includes how we are more likely to be struck of the register with immediate effect. While in this case, we have a clear incident of racism and discrimination, this nurse is still able to keep hold of her pin and get a slap on the wrist. Nothing here surprises me. Although we can see some tiny green shoots and a willingness to investigate this case further (albeit it not by the NMC) we have a very long way to go. For now at least we appear to have more allies speaking out, we need you allies to keep calling out racism and discrimination where you see and hear it and please act on it.