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Nurses are “at the heart” of action needed to tackle discrimination and inequalities in the UK’s health and social care system, the head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has told registrants.
In an email to registrants, NMC chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe indicated that such issues facing black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) nurses had been placed under a stark lens during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said that, while many have had a “devastating few months”, for staff of a BAME background “that will have been compounded by the fact that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated deep-seated inequalities in our society”.
“You’re at the heart of the action we all need to take to tackle discrimination”
Such inequalities had “persisted for far too long”, said Ms Sutcliffe, who stated in her correspondence that the NMC was working to “support efforts” to address the issue.
“You’ve been playing an incredible role at the forefront of the response to Covid-19 and many of you will have sacrificed so much to help others,” she told all registrants in an email sent on Wednesday.
“You’re also at the heart of the action we all need to take to tackle the discrimination we see in our health and social care system.”
She went on to cite previous evidence proving that BAME staff were “more likely to be disciplined and referred to fitness to practise” and “more likely to face bullying at work, and less likely to advance in their careers”.
In addition, she flagged research that emerged during the pandemic that the risk of dying from Covid-19 was higher for people who are black or Asian than for white people.
“These underlying inequalities which have persisted for far too long are unacceptable and we are looking at how we can support efforts to address them,” said Ms Sutcliffe.
While nurses, midwives and nursing associates had been at the centre of the Covid-19 response, Ms Sutcliffe noted that “everyone’s experience will be different” but for many “these will have been a devastating few months”.
“For those of a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, that will have been compounded by the fact that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated deep-seated inequalities in our society,” she added.
In addition, Ms Sutcliffe said the Black Lives Matter movement “reminds us all how urgently change is needed, making us acutely aware of how long these inequalities have existed with little change”.
“We all have the right to live our lives without fear of discrimination based on the colour of our skin, who we love, our religion or faith, whether we have a disability, our age, gender or any aspect of our background or who we are,” she said.
The NMC Code requires registrants to “prioritise people, to treat them fairly and without discrimination and to challenge any discriminatory attitudes and behaviours towards those receiving care”, said Ms Sutcliffe.
“Those responsibilities endure beyond this emergency and can have a positive impact to help turn the tide on the inequalities highlighted so starkly by the impact of Covid-19,” she noted.
“The Code states clearly the principles of treating people with kindness, fairness and without discrimination, bullying or harassment.
“These principles are exactly how we expect those on our register to be treated by others. No one should suffer discrimination as part of their job,” she said.
Meanwhile, the NMC has also committed, as part of its new fiver-year strategy, to “championing the values of equality, diversity and inclusion”.
“We will recognise how health and social inequalities affect different ethnic groups in different ways, making sure we are sensitive enough to respond effectively,” said the chief executive.
“We will support you to provide the best nursing and midwifery possible, and we will work with others in the system to drive forward positive, meaningful change,” she said.
“Creating the long-lasting change that will tackle discrimination and health inequalities isn’t easy. But together, we can create the conditions that will make that possible.”
“No one should suffer discrimination as part of their job”
Today, during the NMC’s council meeting, Ms Sutcliffe and colleagues discussed what actions the regulator planned in response to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ms Sutcliffe said: “The impact of the murder of George Floyd in the USA and the reflection of the continuing injustice and inequalities…which have been exposed and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic have a real impact on our organisation both in terms of internally…but also for our registrants, which is very important for us to acknowledge.”
She reiterated that the NMC had already made commitments in its strategy to put equality, diversity and inclusion “firmly on the agenda”.
“But what is absolutely clear to me, and the reason that we want to have this paper on the agenda today, is that words are nothing if they don’t turn into action,” said Ms Sutcliffe.
“That is what we need to be demonstrating in terms of what we do in the organisation and what we do with our registrants and what we do in influencing the environments in which they are working.”
She added: “It is very important that we listen to the colleagues in our organisation, that we listen to our registrants, that we work with partners who know more about this than we do and have a much greater appreciation of the things that actually make a difference.”
“We will recognise how health and social inequalities affect different ethnic groups in different ways”
During a discussion on the agenda item, the NMC highlighted efforts that were being made on the issue which included the review of its post-registration standards.
As part of the review, the NMC was “considering how we can best use our standards to address health inequalities for BAME communities” and “will continue to engage with BAME professionals and the wider community to co-produce the standards”.
In addition, it was noted that the NMC was also part way through research into its regulatory processes impact people from a BAME background.
The plan was to report the quantitative analysis phase in October 2020, though “preliminary assessment suggests that there are patterns of inequality relating to race”.
Yvonne Coghill, director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) programme at NHS England, has said that the events of the past six months mean race inequality in the NHS workplace can no longer be denied or ignored.
In an exclusive interview with Nursing Times, Ms Coghill said there was now “so much evidence and data” to show more work must be done to level the playing field for people from BAME backgrounds.