The case of Lucy Letby, a nurse sentenced for multiple infant deaths at the Countess of Chester Hospital, has ignited a discussion on the disparity in treatment of Nurses of colour compared to their white colleagues in similar circumstances.
Black nurses' disproportionate referrals to the Nursing and Midwifery Council's (NMC) disciplinary panels, sometimes followed by Black Nurses subsequently being reported to the police, are vastly different and excessive compared to White Nurses.
This blog looks into the nuances of the Letby case, examining the halo effect, double standards, white privilege and the concept of giving the benefit of the doubt.
The halo effect, a form of racial bias that allows the perceived positive traits of the individual to overshadow potential negative actions, is prominently evident in the case of Lucy Letby.
As a White nurse working in infant care, Letby's professional role and race generated an aura of trustworthiness, compassion, and loving care. This racial halo effect likely contributed to hesitation in suspecting her of wrongdoing, illustrating the critical importance of objective and impartial scrutiny in healthcare practices.
The case underscores that perceptions must be anchored in concrete evidence rather than personal assumptions and skin colour.
This is a daily practice that puts nurses of colour at a disadvantage.
The case of Lucy Letby also brings to light the issue of a dual system of standards based on the concept of white privilege within healthcare systems.
White privilege, a pervasive systemic advantage afforded to white individuals, permeates various aspects of society, including healthcare, specifically National Health Service (NHS).
In Letby's case, her white privilege might have inadvertently delayed her investigation and contributed to a delay in scrutinising her actions. This phenomenon can result in undue leniency or reluctance to question White professionals' actions, exacerbating healthcare disparities.
It highlights the need to address systemic imbalances to ensure fair treatment for all individuals, regardless of their racial background.
The principle of giving the benefit of the doubt is a cornerstone of justice, but its application becomes more intricate when examined through the lens of race and privilege.
The question emerges: Would a black nurse have received the same benefit of the doubt in a similar situation? This case highlights the presence of implicit biases and the unequal application of ethical principles based on race.
It serves as a call to reevaluate how these principles are executed and emphasise the urgency of objective assessments across all racial backgrounds when suspected of wrongdoing.
Historically Black nurses have faced discriminatory practices and unequal advancement opportunities. When they should receive the same fair and just treatment, they often find themselves disproportionately facing harsh consequences for lesser offences, even when no harm has been caused.
For example, we are currently dealing with a Black midwife who successfully delivered a baby, and no harm was caused to the mother or the baby. However, this Black Midwife is currently being struck off from the NMC register for this despite a well-respected obstetrician who praised the midwife for her intervention which saved the baby's life.
There are other examples. A Filipino nurse falsely accused of inappropriate touching was arrested the same day. Within ten days, had been struck off the NMC register despite no evidence to support the claims and never being charged with any offence. The nurse was immediately suspended from an NHS post, whilst Lucy Letby was allowed to continue in a non-clinical role.
Further, we have a Black Nurse, aged 70, who was arrested at 3 am in a dawn raid and suspended from the NMC register after being wrongly accused of something that happened in her absence. This event has turned her entire life upside down.
The disparity in the treatment of Nurses of colour compared to that of white Nurses is outrageous and enormous. This double standard blurs the ideals of fairness, equality, and justice that the healthcare system should stand for. The Lucy Letby case illustrates how the halo effect, double standards, white privilege and unequal opportunities intersect to shape healthcare perceptions and outcomes.
The discussion surrounding the potential consequences for Black nurses emphasises the urgency of confronting implicit biases, dismantling privilege, and creating a healthcare system that embraces diversity and is fair for all.
Our articles may leave you concerned, upset, or even outraged. It's natural to have strong reactions to issues that hit close to home for Black Nurses. If the theme resonates with you, please remember you're not alone in your feelings. Equality 4 Black Nurses has created a safe space for you to discuss and explore discrimination issues in healthcare. We meet via Zoom every Tuesday at 9 pm. Please keep cameras on and maintain confidentiality during discussions. If you're affected by unfair referral to the NMC, police contact, or work-related issues, please don't hesitate to contact us on our helpline at 0208 050 2598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.