A 46-year-old mental health nurse who was passionate about stamping out race inequalities in the health sector has died from coronavirus.
Colleagues have today paid tribute to Khulisani Nkala, who was known as Khuli and worked as a charge nurse in forensic services at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
“His ability to develop sound relationships and put people at ease was astounding”
Mr Nkala, who lived in Leeds but was born in Zimbabwe, was an active member of the trust’s Workforce Race Equality Network and had won an award for his work supporting and mentoring students.
He died on 17 April after contracting Covid-19, the first staff member from Leeds and York Partnership to lose their life to the virus.
The announcement comes on the same day that Southport and Formby District General Hospital confirmed the loss of nurse Josephine Peter.
Their deaths will fuel mounting concerns that nurses from black or minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds are being disproportionally affected by the pandemic.
Paying tribute to Mr Nkala, Wendy Tangen, clinical services inclusion lead and Workforce Race Equality Network chair at Leeds and York Partnership, described him as a man of “integrity, honour, wit and a smile that lit up any dull room”.
She added: “He believed in fairness and I often had conversations with him on improving the care we offered to our service users and supporting the progression of our black and minority ethnic staff members, including our bank staff.
“His ability to develop sound relationships and put people at ease was astounding, nothing appeared to faze him, and his presence gave calmness and confidence in difficult situations.
“He was respected for his professionalism and boundaries yet he was always personable.”
Mr Nkala was one of the first members of the trust’s Workforce Race Equality Network.
He would share his own cultural norms with team members to emphasise the importance of delivering personalised care and seeing patients as a whole person, added Ms Tangen.
“Khuli was someone who took his responsibilities as a trainer and professional mentor very seriously”
“Although he can be described as having a strong resilience, he understood the impact on inequalities for BAME staff and service users and was committed to making a difference to their lives,” she said.
Mr Nkala joined Leeds and York Partnership in 2015 as a staff on Ward 3 at the Newsam Centre – the trust’s treatment and recovery low secure forensic service, progressing to charge nurse a year later. He had previously worked for many years at Stockton Hall medium secure care services near York.
Along with his contracted hours, Mr Nkala would also take on extra shifts as a member of bank staff for both Leeds and York Partnership and for the Cygnet independent health group.
Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership, remembered Mr Nkala as a “well-respected and selfless professional nurse”, who always put the patient first.
She also highlighted his work as a mentor to students, for which he won an award from the University of Leeds.
“Khuli was someone who took his responsibilities as a trainer and professional mentor very seriously, taking many student nurses under his wing and taking the time to nurture the next generation of talent,” said Dr Munro.
One staff member who had been mentored by Mr Nkala said they “wouldn’t be the nurse I am today” with his support.
While another colleague described how Mr Nkala would always try and spread positivity at work by reciting after every handover “let’s have a good shift”.
Dr Munro said members of the forensics team were being given extra support as they came to terms with the loss of Mr Nkala.
While official data is lacking, media reporting suggests a high proportion of the nurses dying during the Covid-19 pandemic are from a BME background.
The government has pledged to hold a review into why ethnicity appears to be coronavirus risk factor, with a specific focus on healthcare staff.
Nursing Times has set up a page to remember the nurses and midwives lost during the pandemic.
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