The NHS has been accused of “shocking and systemic” racism during the pandemic as black healthcare workers say they were given poor PPE and pushed into the Covid frontline first.
Hundreds of black and brown healthcare staff across the UK have spoken to academics at Sheffield Hallam University about their experiences of racism during the pandemic.
The accounts raised issues of racism within the health service which led to black and brown nurses and midwives being put at greater risk than their white colleagues, due to poorer PPE, training, workload and shift patterns.
Rosalie Sanni-Ajose, a senior theater practitioner, who worked across multiple London NHS hospitals through an agency called Yourworld told The Independent: “During the pandemic, we found that most of us (black agency nurses) have been placed in ITU to look after Covid patients are on a Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or the ventilator.
“Then when I work in A&E, they divided areas into sections – green area, red area, and the normal areas. So some of the ethnic minority staff were then put in the red areas all the time. Further some of us, we have comorbidities like asthma, or diabetes, or have an exemption that has been clearly stated they are not allowed to work there.”
She said despite some having exemptions because they were agency staff they were told they have to be in those areas unless they officially complained.
“I just found that to be unfair, we’ve all done the same training if we’re looking after these patients it shouldn’t be the black nurses only it should be shared equally” she added.
In other reports, in the investigation one nurse called Gemma, said she was told “it beats being a slave”, when she challenged the unequal workload where she worked.
Another healthcare worker, called Neomi, said: “It’s bad enough to be racially abused by patients, colleagues, or whatever, but then not to get support… that has a really strong impact.”
In the first month of lockdown 71 per cent of health staff who died were black or brown, according to the University’s research team.
Through its research, which involved 350 black and brown nurses, midwives and healthcare staff across the UK, Sheffield Hallam University found 77 per cent of respondents said they’d been treated unfairly when they challenged racism.
Just over 50 per cent of the respondents said they’d experienced unfair treatment in the pandemic in relation to Covid deployment, PPE or risk assessment.
One third have left their job as a result of racism, while more than half have experienced poor mental health due to the racism they experienced.
The academic team, lead by Professor Anandi Ramamurthy said the healthcare professionals’ reports reveal “a story of systematic neglect and harassment which predates the pandemic.”
Professor Ramamurthy, said: “These experiences are just the type of the iceberg and instances of racism are being significantly underreported.
“Racism in the NHS is not new, but the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed its fatal impact. This cannot be tolerated, and the pandemic has to mark a turning point in the NHS to eradicate racism within its midst.
“It is vital that NHS senior leaders listen and act urgently on the Black and brown nurses’ manifesto for change not just because it is the right human response but because failure to do so will negatively impact staffing, morale and patient care within the NHS. ”
Dr Ken Fero, from Migrant Media who have partnered on the project said there was evidence of “negligence” and an “apartheid” in the treatment of black and brown nurses, including the training and support available.
An NHS spokesperson said: “There is never an excuse for racism or any form of discrimination and it should not be tolerated by anyone, including our hard working and dedicated NHS staff.
“While our latest equality report shows that we have made progress delivering a zero-tolerance approach to all and any form of discrimination, it is undeniable there is significant room for improvement and we will continue to support NHS organizations to create real and sustainable change in race equality.”