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I think I was as surprised as anyone by the apparent findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which were published just before Easter.
The commission, set up by ministers after Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests last summer, put a remarkably and, quite frankly, unbelievably rosy spin on racism and racial equality in the UK today.
“Professor Radford is absolutely correct, racism in the health service must be called out”
It reminded me of the there’s ‘nothing to see here’ sort of thing one might expect in a report published in a dictatorship or similar regime, rather than a modern, forward-thinking democracy.
As an example, while it recognised that ethnic minority staff in the NHS reported worse experiences, the commission said workforce race equality data was not robust enough to tell the full story.
How robust does the data need to be? Given their widely heeded annual reports on such matters, I suspect NHS England’s own National Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) Implementation Team might have something to say on the matter.
The commission’s report was so wide of the mark that it succeeded in drawing criticism from senior leaders at government arms’-length bodies and organisations representing NHS trusts.
One of them was Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at Health Education England, who happened to be giving a speech at the Mary Seacole Awards on the day the report came out, which showcase projects to address health inequalities among minority ethnic communities.
He stressed that racism remains a problem in the UK and in the NHS that needed to be addressed, following the controversial government-commissioned report that appeared to downplay the issue.
“It’s really important with the report out today that we absolutely say that there is racism in our society, we absolutely say there are structural problems with race within our communities and within our NHS, because we absolutely have to call those things out and recognise them for what they are,” he said.
A case in point is that action must be taken to stamp out ‘hair racism’ in the NHS by scrapping dress code policies that discriminate against Black nurses, as revealed today by Nursing Times.
A team of international nursing academics and professionals, including lecturers at Middlesex University, have highlighted the discrimination faced by Black nurses because of their hairstyles.
“I urge employers to ensure right now that they do not racially discriminate in their guidance on staff hairstyles”
The researchers said Black nurses had experienced “cultural violence”, in which “they are expected to apologise for, hide, or in the worst cases, cut off their dreads, braids or other styles of Black hair”.
So that, surely, is as good a place as any right now to get started. I urge all health and social care employers to ensure right now that they do not racially discriminate in their guidance on staff hairstyles.
Professor Radford is absolutely correct, racism in the health service must be called out. There is not place for it anywhere in society but certainly not in the NHS, which benefits from such a uniquely diverse workforce.
Like last year, the July print issue of Nursing Times will be dedicated to championing equality in order to help keep a focus on this important issue.