I was the only Black nurse in the department and I soon found out that I had been downgraded to HCA
My experience of racism in the workplace is real and painful because it's not only the racism but the wickedness that follows. The following account is my true personal experience.
As a Nurse born in Africa I am brought up to treat everyone with love, respect and dignity. In my country of origin, the word racism only exists in the dictionary. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision being the victim of racism or being caught up in an institution that was built on a white superiority construct. However, It hit me hard like a tonne of bricks when my white nursing colleagues at a large NHS hospital began to make false allegations about me. The main culprit of the allegations was a well-respected matron. She even carried an honours award from the Queen of England.
The allegations came after I refused to be relocated to another ward area on her suggestion. It started during the winter of 2019 whilst working on a winter pressure ward. This ward was extremely busy. I explained to the nurse in charge often about my concerns with staffing levels but this fell on deaf ears. It seems that when Black nurses request adequate cover we are told to get on with it but when things go wrong we receive the full force of the law.
So on this particular shift one of my patients unfortunately had a fall; I acted quick and provided first aid, I followed this with the trusts recommended fall and post fall protocol and completed all documentation. I informed the seniors and let the patient’s family know about the incident. The shift was extremely busy and I did my best under the circumstances. Exhausted, I finished work at 10pm.
However, the following day, the ward manager called me and told me that I did not document the patient falls or follow post falls managements, she informed me that they have carried out an investigation (in my absence) and the matron said that I would be supervised during all my shifts for the next 4 weeks. The ward manager again offered me the opportunity to relocate from this ward. I politely refused but this created a sense of confusion and upset because I know that I did everything correctly, there was clear documentation recorded but it seemed that they were just looking for somebody to blame. The seniors did not listen to me or believe my version of events. I requested copies of the notes, which I completed during the shift but I was told this was not possible. I felt demoralised and disheartened. However I continued to remind myself that I am here for the patients and this is my vocation. I told myself that perhaps I should just put this experience to one side and get on with it.
The following month after supervision had finished, I noticed all my co-workers were cold and hostile towards me. They began to ostracise me and not include me in conversations. The entire unit was unfriendly and the white HCA’s did not seem happy to take instructions from me. They questioned everything I did and I was undermined. However I tried not to dwell on my feelings and just got on with it because nursing is my first love in life and I enjoyed my job.
However, nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. I was tending to a patient. Repositioning her, I called for help from the white HCA who tutted her teeth and said something under her breath. She also called for another HCA as they both joined me to reposition the patient. They completely took control of the repositioning and ignored me throughout the procedure. This was extremely uncomfortable and hurtful so I walked away from the situation and continued with my shift. I finished my shift and went home.
In the morning when I returned for my shift, both the matron and the ward manager from the fall incident the previous month once again summoned me to the office. In an instance they began firing off questions to me. They were pertaining to the patient that I repositioned the day before with the 2 HCA’s. The matron asked me what devices I use for the repositioning. At the same time the manager came at me with passive aggression “have we not given you moving and handling training” They were both coming at me and it felt very overwhelming. I struggled to understand the reason for the questions and the attack towards me. I was struggling to breath and the palpitations were taking over my body. The matron told me that members of the team feel threatened by me and they are unable to speak to me because they perceive me as being angry and aggressive.
It soon became apparent that the HCA’s had made allegations about me after I left the cubicle. They said I was rough with the patient and manhandled her. This false allegation hurt me to the core of my being. Again I felt confused and upset because I knew this was untrue. The matron made it clear that she believed the false allegations against me and her behaviour and attitude towards me reaffirmed this. I was immediately suspended and security was called to take my ID badge and walk me from the building. I was in total shock and the experience was deeply traumatising.
Eventually after 2 weeks the matron and ward manager invited me back in to set a plan for my return. They explained the findings in that an investigation was carried out (again in my absence) and the outcome was that there was no evidence to prove any wrongdoing and no recommendations were made. I was not provided with the investigation report, however a six-month warning letter was placed into my file and a three-month personal improvement plan was suggested during this meeting. The ward manager told me that I could no longer work on the existing ward where the troubles began and they proposed to relocate me to a different ward. My heart sank as I remembered the conversation previously when they offered relocation as an option. The meeting was patronising and insulting to my intelligence. I’m a 62 year old nurse with 40 years of nursing experience and service without a complaint to my name. However, the penny had still not dropped that I was the unfortunate victim of institutionalised racism. I had not stopped to consider that my Black skin might be the reason I am being subjected to such treatment.
I agreed to the 3-month personal improvement plan because although I knew I had done nothing wrong, I viewed this as an opportunity to improve my nursing skills and ultimately become a better nurse which results in better patient outcomes. In addition, I agreed to the opportunity that was offered because I did not want to be out of a job, I have a family to support back home in Africa, a mortgage to pay and a life here in the UK. I wrongly trusted my seniors believing that they had my best interest at heart with placing me on a 3-month personal improvement plan.
On my first day on the new ward I was instantly treated like a common criminal. I was the only Black nurse in the department and I soon found out that I had been downgraded to a HCA role and was not allowed to work independently as a registered Nurse. The hostility was blatant and the nursing team treated me with disdain. During the afternoon the ward manager came to see me and she presented a form with the title SUPPORT RECORD FORM. She explained that all members of the team who have concerns about my behaviour are required to write down any concerns on this sheet of paper which would be locked in a box in her office. She told me that she has provided a brief to all staff the importance of recording any concerns about me. The manager went on to say that once the 3-month personal plan is complete they would review the possibility of me practising as a registered nurse. As the only Black nurse in the department, this was mortifying and felt completely wrong. I took the drastic action to hand my notice in and leave on that day. I did not feel comfortable and the environment was intolerable.
I called my union rep immediately for the first time because it now dawned on me that this is real life racism. I recognised what I was going through as racism. I reached out to my union rep to seek help. The tears were streaming down my face as I replayed everything over my mind. I explained everything that happened as I told the rep that I felt as if they just didn't want me in that ward area because I am a black nurse. It was obvious to me, all the lies, fake allegations and now being downgraded from registered nurse to a HCA.
I thought and hoped that my union rep would understand and help me to get my original nurse role back. However, after hours of explaining the situation my rep said he could not agree that racism played a part in this situation and he advised me to return to the ward and continue working as a HCA until i'm signed off as fit to practice as a registered nurse.
The rep said racism is impossible to prove and he could not see any racism at play.
The union rep literally gaslighted my experience. I felt degraded and vulnerable. The situation was affecting me emotionally, psychologically and physically.
This experience has left me feeling unwanted, lowered my self-esteem, and damaged my confidence. I continue to have trust issues and I’m constantly watching over my shoulders, paranoid working with white managers in a racist society but my faith in God, my children and grandchildren keeps me going and strong. Unbelievably after I left the hospital, the management team referred me to the NMC claiming that I did not cooperate with their 3 month personal improvement plan and 2 years on I am continuing to fight against the NMC case against me in trying to prove my innocence. EQUALITY 4 BLACK NURSES will be representing me at the full fitness to practice hearing that has been scheduled to take place in November 2021
Note from Equality 4 Black Nurses
Institutional racism is the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."
Racism is insidious and because of this, the perpetrators of racism relish this fact. However the victims of racism are beginning to speak out about these secret and often illegal interactions. Equality 4 Black Nurses has started to identify patterns and themes of racist behaviours towards Black Nurses which are becoming irrefutable and blatant. We are creating a catalogue of case studies with evidence which clearly exposes the hidden dangers of racism within the NHS.
An old bible saying......What's done in the dark will always come to light.