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Black nursing staff are often blamed & punished for issues that White staff are supported through

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

What’s your current job role?

I’m a registered Nurse.

What brought you to E4BN?

My employer suspended me and the trade union, which represented me, seemed to support the bad behaviour of my hospital and they closed my case. My union refused to take my case forward and could not recognise the discrimination that I was subjected to. I needed help, so a friend introduced me to Equality 4 Black Nurses.

What was your case about?

We were short-staffed on a medical ward and a nurse colleague could not do her medication round, so I had to supervise her during my shift. This meant that on top of my patients that I was caring for; I had to look after 10 other patients independently. I reported this to the White night sister, but she was not supportive.

The ward was extremely busy, short-staffed and manic. Patients were roaming around the area unaided and at risk of falls and other patient safety concerns. At one stage, it was reported to me, whilst I was doing the drug round that a dementia patient had climbed into another patient’s bed. The ward was seriously short-staffed and I called the doctor, security staff and the night sister several times, but there was no response. The phone system within the hospital was constantly down and the bleep system failed. One of the junior doctors advised me to send a Whatsapp message to the on-call doctors group, but didn’t provide me with the contact details.

The shift was very challenging and no one came to help me and I did everything I could to keep my patients safe throughout the shift. I continually bleeped the night sister for help, but was left to do everything alone. The night sister didn't turn up when I needed her the most and I decided to address the situation the best I could. I managed to get the dementia patient out of the other patient’s bed and I cleaned the bed and changed the bed sheets as per infection control protocol. Neither patient had Covid-19 or any other known infection and no special infection control measures were in place for either patient. I thought that was the end of it. The night sister eventually turned up in the early hours and I explained the situation, however she did not even apologise or acknowledge my concerns of the ward being dangerously short-staffed. The night sister was not friendly towards me but treated me with disdain and reminded me that she was in charge of the entire hospital whilst I only had one ward to manage. I was not supported by the White night sister at all.

I did everything in my power to stay strong and manage the ward under the difficult circumstances. Due to the conditions, I was not able to take a break. There was no one to relieve me. At the end of my night shift I was exhausted, tired and completely worn out. It was the night shift from hell but I felt totally accomplished because none of my patients had come to any harm, no falls and no additional issues arose apart from the dementia patient going into a different bed.

I proceeded to write my notes and due to the time constraints and the problems on the shift, I was unable to go into great detail in my notes and only covered the basics of the care that I delivered.

As I handed over to the day staff, I explained in great detail the issues and challenges that I experienced during the night shift and I proceeded to go home to get some well-needed rest. However, I received the shock of my life when I was then asked by the matron and the ward manager to come into the office for a chat. Both White staff members were very intimidating in their approach towards me and seemed to condemn me. The approach toward me was passive-aggressive and both were telling me off. I again explained the issues I experienced during the night shift and the lack of support received from the night sister, but as I watched their expressions they both seemed to be taking it very personally. The matron began to make excuses for the night sister's absence and lack of support. She reiterated that the night sister had a bigger responsibility compared to mine of managing one ward. Within a few minutes it became apparent that I was in fact in trouble but at that stage I didn't quite know for what reason. I felt like I was treated like a criminal. The matron then proceeded to inform me that I am not taking responsibility for the incident with the patient going into the bed of the other patient, and because of this, I would be suspended from my role as a nurse. She proceeded to call security and I was escorted out of the building and my identification badge was taken from me. This has to be the most embarrassing moment in all my nursing career. I couldn't believe what was happening to me as I walked out with my colleagues looking at me. I found it very unfair that despite there being several other nursing and healthcare professionals working on that shift, me (the only Black Nurse) was singled out and suspended for the systemic problems which arose on the night shift. There was no suspension or consequences for the White night sister or any other staff working alongside me during the shift. The allegations stated that I failed to protect patients from nosocomial transmission and I was suspended for five months and received a referral to the NMC and safeguarding.

My trade union seemed to be working against me from the onset. He encouraged me to say that I am sorry and he kept encouraging me to write a reflective account and take responsibility for the department with no regard for it being short-staffed and an impossible situation. My union reps attitude left me more confused and deeply upset. I simply could not see how it was my fault as my intention was to do good and support my patients. I refused to accept the narrative that I am a bad nurse.

After the five months investigation and attending an internal hearing, I received a final warning, and a condition that I undertake patronising improvement plans and report to senior staff. I was banned from working night shifts and constantly supervised. This was a major inconvenience to me because I have a family with small children and night shifts work well with my husband's day shifts, in that we save on child care costs. The inconvenience and sanction was too stressful. The last straw was when my line manager threatened that if I attempted to leave the job he would again refer me to the NMC for not cooperating with the improvement plan and he went on to provide me with a damaging reference to prevent me from leaving​.

How did E4BN help you with your case? E4BN has been a life saver. I don't know how I would have gotten through this without them. They immediately identified what was happening to me and they had serious questions around the unfairness and bias that was clear to see. They had issues around the conduct of the case and on my behalf, E4BN contacted the employer.

Equality 4 Black Nurses conducted a specialised rainbow triage assessment on every area of my case and they helped me to create an exit plan and leave the toxic environment that staff had created towards me. I was confused and couldn't understand what was happening to me. I lacked confidence and I was emotionally drained. The way my employer treated me made me frightened to leave the job due to fear of repercussions, and I was traumatised by what I went through. I no longer felt comfortable working there. I was gripped with fear that I might unwittingly do something wrong as I had been given a final written warning that meant I could be sacked in an instance. In all my years of practice I had never been given even a verbal notice or warning. The shock nearly killed me as I had only just recovered from Covid-19 and was still in bereavement after losing a close family member to Covid. The E4BN ​team​ stepped in and supported me and helped me to understand everything that I was going through. They taught me about microaggressions, gaslighting and internalised racial oppression. This gave me a big relief and helped me to understand institutionalised racism and the effects this has on the victims of racial abuse. E4BN supported me holistically throughout my case and gradually, I gained my confidence back. They are always there to support and encourage me whenever I need them. The support received has positively impacted me psychologically, physically, socially, and intellectually. I have not struggled with any part of their process; the E4BN ​team​ are readily available when I need them.

E4BN therapist, Beverley, gave me my smile back and helped me to believe in my ability and become confident in my nursing skills. Ultimately, I chose to prioritise my health and well-being, you cannot be healed in a workplace that will destroy you based solely on your differences.

How has the racism you’ve experienced impacted you physically? For example, were you up all night due to stress? When I found out the devastating outcome of my case, I felt like the whole world was against me. I lost my confidence and self-esteem. I was anxious at the prospect of going to work, and I started to have panic attacks, which I still do occasionally. The racism I experienced has given me sleepless nights, and I felt so isolated. I also lost a tremendous amount of weight, dealing with racial trauma made me lose my appetite. There were days I struggled to eat anything because I was in such a dark place. My family was affected both financially and emotionally. I was so traumatised that eventually I had to go off work sick. Would you recommend E4BN and why? I will definitely recommend E4BN to anyone as they are one of the best groups a nurse with differences can join to ease the ongoing issues Black and Asian Nurses are facing in their places of work.

Equality 4 Black Nurses advises Black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses to be proactive from the beginning by keeping a written record of events that happen. Written evidence is important when dealing with racism in the workplace. If you speak to management about an incident, ensure you do so via email rather than face-to-face. Please do not wait until things get bad to ask for help, Equality 4 Black Nurses is always here for you, please reach out to us immediately and we will advise you on what to do next.

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