2020 should have been a wonderful year for health and care professionals. It was the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and there were so many things to celebrate. But it turned into a year we'd never forget, for all the wrong reasons. We were unprepared for the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.
After the initial outbreak, there was so much information to process, and guidance felt limited. The situation was changing so rapidly and we just had to deal with things in the best way we could.
As nurses and midwives, we were certainly affected by the rate at which people's health was deteriorating, and the number of people dying. Not just members of the public, but our own colleagues, too. It brought home the seriousness of the pandemic.
Turning the Tide
When the pandemic struck, I was the Director for Midwifery at Bart's Health NHS Trust, which has the largest maternity unit in the UK. My colleagues and I were concerned about the high numbers of women and expectant mothers falling ill.
Some women were even being admitted to intensive care units. But we also saw that Covid was affecting a disproportionate number of people from Black and minority ethnic communities.
Alongside other events last year, like the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Covid was shining another light on the inequalities my community was facing.
As a Black woman and a leader, I felt like I had a responsibility to do something about this - no matter how small. So I spoke to several of the heads of maternity in the UK who were from similar backgrounds.
We decided to ask our Black and minority ethnic midwifery colleagues about their experiences and concerns. We wanted to find out how they were feeling, the challenges they were facing, how we could support them and what the solutions should be. We called this project 'Turning the Tide'.
We found that midwifery professionals and members of Black and minority ethnic communities had a deep mistrust of the health and care system. This included fear about the increased risks and inequalities they might face.
This mistrust meant that many people were turning to self-care and home remedies. But with this came misconceptions about how to keep Covid at bay. So it was important that we could support maternity staff to look after themselves as well as others from these communities.
Some professionals were also concerned about how maternity services could be made accessible to everyone during the pandemic. As time progressed, many new resources and platforms were put in place to help those who needed our services. But what about those with language barriers, or limited access to digital platforms?
Many maternity staff also expressed concerns around PPE. This ranged from a lack of available equipment at the beginning of the pandemic to ill-fitting PPE. And many midwives weren't sure how to correctly put on or dispose of PPE clothing. My colleagues and I discussed our findings with those from across the health and care services - the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Royal College of Midwifery and the Chief Midwifery Officer to name a few!
Since then, my colleagues and I have been doing a lot of work to understand how we can improve maternity services. For midwives from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and the people in their care.
One of the most recent things I've been working on is trying to encourage people from my community to get the Covid vaccine. It saves lives and I totally believe in it. Over the past year I've seen death, anger and fear. The 'Turning the Tide' project I worked on definitely highlighted that. And as someone who also contracted Covid last year and fell very ill, I can relate to those worries and concerns. But the vaccine is our solution and the way out of this pandemic.
If something isn't right, don't be afraid to change it
My work on the 'Turning the Tide' project has taught me so much. The most important is that if something isn't right, don't be afraid to change it. When we went into this pandemic it was a world of the unknown. But as a leader, I wanted to be out there supporting people. I needed to lead from the front. And once I saw the disparities affecting my Black and minority ethnic colleagues, I couldn't sit back and do nothing.
We can all do things to make a difference, no matter how small our contribution. Whether you're working to change inequalities in the health and care system, or getting the Covid vaccine. Together we can make a big change.
Nurses, midwives and maternity support workers have worked tirelessly through this pandemic and we've put our own safety on the line to help others. But it's brought us closer than ever before. This is something we'll never forget and I can't thank my colleagues enough for everything they've done.