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Calls have been made for a new “strategy” to tackle issues of racism and discrimination faced by nurses from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in the NHS.
A committee of cross-party MPs today warned that more must be done to “eradicate all forms of discrimination and racism” from the health service.
“It is clear that more must be done to ensure that all NHS staff feel safe, confident and proud to work for the NHS”
The demands came in a new report from the Health and Social Care Select Committee titled: Delivering core NHS and care services during the pandemic.
The report warned that the task of keeping health services running during the pandemic had “posed an unprecedented risk to BAME NHS staff”.
It pointed to a statement from NHS England and NHS Improvement acknowledging evidence of “disproportionate mortality and morbidity amongst BAME people, including our NHS staff, who have contracted Covid-19”.
Meanwhile, the committee said it had heard “many concerns about discrimination and racism against BAME NHS and care staff”, which had come to light in the wake of “international events”.
The report, which considered evidence from royal colleges, health think tanks, patients and NHS senior leaders and representatives, also noted that problems with the supply of PPE had been “especially severe for BAME staff”.
“In the context of the heightened risk that Covid-19 poses to people from BAME communities, the need for BAME staff to have appropriately fitting PPE has been consistently raised with us,” it added.
The committee welcomed the introduction of risk assessments for BAME staff in the health service among other initiatives targeted at improving equality and inclusion.
However, it warned: “It is clear that more must be done to ensure that all NHS staff—regardless of their race, ethnicity or cultural heritage—feel safe, confident and proud to work for the NHS.”
In its recommendations it called on NHS England and NHS Improvement and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to “set out in detail its strategy to tackle racism and discrimination and to promote diversity in the NHS”.
The strategy should be produced by the end of 2020, and should include targets and deadlines, added the committee. It also wanted a “full and comprehensive definition” of racism and discrimination for the health service.
“Nursing staff feel anxious about the months ahead”
Susan Masters, the Royal College of Nursing’s director of nursing, policy and public affairs, said the college supported the recommendation for a formal definition of racism and discrimination.
“This step should make it easier for employers to conduct comprehensive equality analyses,” she said.
She added: “Employers must determine how things like the allocation of shifts, or the fit testing of, and access to, PPE affects BAME health and care workers.
“However, the surest way to address the underlying issues of racial discrimination in our profession is through a fully funded, cross-governmental health and race inequalities strategy which is acted upon properly.”
The committee’s report also raised concerns about the health and wellbeing of NHS staff during the pandemic.
It warned: “The evidence provided to our inquiry has shown that much of the NHS and care workforce is fatigued, exhausted and otherwise ‘burnt out’ with no obvious let up or plan to relieve the pressure in sight.”
In addition, the group flagged that pre-existing issues around staff recruitment, training and retention had been “exacerbated by the pandemic”.
It recommended that NHS England and NHS Improvement set out in detail “what further specific steps it would like to take over the coming years to support the mental and physical wellbeing of all staff”.
As part of this, a plan should be put in place to deal with the “specific issue of sustained workplace pressure due to the current pandemic and backlog associated with the coronavirus”.
The calls to action reflect those levelled by Nursing Times as part of our Covid:19: Are You OK? mental health campaign.
Ms Masters added: “Nursing staff feel anxious about the months ahead which is why it is welcome to see this report recommend further action to support their mental and physical wellbeing.
“Health and care staff at all levels must have access to comprehensive psychological support services in which they can have confidence.”
Also commenting on the report, British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Clearing the backlog must not come at the cost of pushing an already overworked and stressed NHS workforce to their limit once more, and so the recognition of improving wellbeing among staff must be met with swift action.”
He added that the committee was “absolutely right” to call for a detailed strategy on tackling racism and discrimination in the health service.
Nursing Times has contacted NHS England and NHS Improvement and the DHSC for a response.