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Blog: Black Lives Matter

Read the latest blog from our Chief Executive Andrea Sutcliffe

We were asked on Blackout Tuesday this week to take time away from social media to reflect upon the murder of George Floyd in the US; the subsequent protests in America and around the world; the experience of racism, discrimination and prejudice that black people face; and what we can all do about it.

At the NMC we were doing a lot of reflection already prompted by several postings by black colleagues on Workplace, our internal social media platform. They expressed their pain, anger and sorrow at what was happening and the raw nerve it touched of their own experiences and fears. I’m glad we have such an open, inclusive culture at the NMC where we can share our feelings and look out for each other in this way.

I too had been despairing at the news from the US. But as colleagues reminded us, this is a global issue and the ugliness of the scenes from America should not disguise the fact that racism and discrimination are rife in this country too and can have a devastating impact on people’s lives.

Covid-19

Against this backdrop, Public Health England published its research on Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19. The risk of dying among those diagnosed with Covid-19 is higher in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups than in White ethnic groups. The report makes sobering reading – here’s just one paragraph that brings home the disproportionate impact.

“Comparing to previous years, all cause mortality was almost 4 times higher than expected among Black males for this period, almost 3 times higher in Asian males and almost 2 times higher in White males. Among females, deaths were almost 3 times higher in this period in Black, Mixed and Other females, and 2.4 times higher in Asian females compared with 1.6 times in White females.”

If you look at the photographs of nurses and midwives who have died from this disease you can see that very quickly and the further analysis PHE carried out confirms this.

PHE reports that “a total of 10,841 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in nurses, midwives and nursing associates were identified, 9,385 of whom were in females. This represents 1.9% of the professionals on NMC register.” They also looked at “the proportion of COVID-19 cases among registered nurses, midwives and nursing associates by ethnic group. This proportion was highest among those of Asian ethnic groups (3.9%), followed by Other ethnic groups (3.1%), White ethnic groups (1.7%) and Black and Mixed ethnic groups (both with 1.5%).”

These findings need to influence the way we respond to the pandemic which, despite the current easing of lockdown measures, is still an ever-present danger.

Inequalities

As PHE analysis shows for ethnicity and other factors, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated deep-seated inequalities in our society.

Another example came on the same day from the Care Quality Commission who published data on the deaths of people with a learning disability. This showed that “between 10 April and 15 May this year, 386 people with a learning disability, some of whom may also be autistic, died who were receiving care from services which provide support for people with a learning disability and/or autism… This is a 134% increase in the number of death notifications this year.”

These are horrifying figures that shame us all.

Taking action

We cannot dismiss these issues. They are not political, they are about humanity and they are about human rights. We all have the right to live our lives without fear of discrimination based on the colour of our skin, who we love, our religion or faith, whether we have a disability, our age, gender or any aspect of our background or who we are.

The professionals on the NMC register have been at the forefront of the response to Covid-19 and many have sacrificed so much to help others. But they are also at the heart of the action we need to take to tackle the discrimination we see in our health and social care system.

The NMC Code requires nurses, midwives and nursing associates to prioritise people, to treat them fairly and without discrimination and to challenge any discriminatory attitudes and behaviours towards those receiving care. Those responsibilities persist beyond this emergency and can have a positive impact to help turn the tide on the inequalities highlighted so starkly by the impact of Covid-19.

And the principle of treating people with kindness, fairness and without discrimination is also exactly how we should expect those on our register to be treated by others.

There are responsibilities for us as the regulator of nursing and midwifery professionals – we need to recognise and acknowledge the problems that exist, support our registrants in living the Code and use our influence where we can to bring about change.

“The world is changed by your example not by your opinion.” Paulo Coelho

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