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Champions of equal rights

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Diversity champions are volunteers who ensure staff and patients are treated equally, stepping in to change practice or procedures. Jennifer Taylor finds out about the role

The RCN launched its diversity champion programme at congress last year with the aim of recruiting 1,000 volunteers. There are now nearly 800 across the UK.

Diversity champions are responsible for ensuring that both patients and colleagues are treated with dignity and respect, by addressing behaviour, procedures or policies as necessary.

Their role could include noticing that an older person has not eaten because they are unable to feed themselves or that a colleague is being bullied.

Diversity champions perform their duties, without remuneration, on top of their jobs as nurses, midwives or HCAs.

‘A diversity champion would step into the breach and try to resolve situations,’ says Maxine Hurley, assistant diversity and equalities coordinator at the RCN. They tend to have a passion for equality and justice, she adds.

Nurses who decide to become diversity champions attend a one-hour induction session which covers what a diversity champion is and what the role involves.

Last year’s Celebrity Big Brother incident between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty is used as a learning tool. ‘It’s generally
very powerful,’ says Ms Hurley. ‘You can see the light bulbs going on all over the place and people coming away feeling
“yes, I can do this”.’

After the induction, champions are given a diversity toolkit – a memory stick with more than 300 pages of information covering, among other issues, legislation and cultural approaches to end-of-life care.

As part of the support for the champions, seven fringe events were held at this year’s RCN Congress. These included mini masterclasses with pointers on how to conduct difficult conversations. Annual conferences for diversity champions are planned from next year.

Training is available on an ad hoc basis and diversity champions can at any time ask the RCN to come to their workplace to deliver training for themselves or colleagues.

The next step is to have diversity champions become accredited equality representatives, which would give them the protection afforded to union officials such as health and safety representatives. Recognised union representatives are entitled to time off for training and to execute their role, while diversity champions are not.

Rachael Ridley, a nurse and diversity champion at a trust in the north of England, wants healthcare settings to be more active in demonstrating that diversity and individuality is a good thing, not a problem.

While Ms Ridley has a particular interest in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual) issues, the diversity champion role gives her a broader remit.

‘I am a trans female, having undergone gender reassignment surgery. My own experience has resulted in me being passionate about ending bullying and tackling discrimination,’ she says.

She adds: ‘Time and capacity is always an issue [and] getting nurses to prioritise equality and diversity can be a challenge.

However, as a diversity champion, I am fully backed by the RCN, which gives me confidence and makes me feel that I am not alone.’

Alan Mawbey, a community mental health nurse with older people at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, is a member of RCN council, chairperson of the RCN’s membership, representation and diversity committee and the RCN’s own diversity champion.

Mr Mawbey is able to raise awareness of issues. He recalls that at one council meeting he asked why the RCN didn’t have any figures on the number of black and minority ethnic members, and the answer was ‘we don’t collect them’. The organisation now collects that information on a voluntary basis.

He adds: ‘On a personal basis I think it’s changed me tremendously. I don’t tell jokes that maybe I would have done five to seven years ago. It’s consciousness raising.’

Michael Parker, chairperson of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, believes all RCN members should take advantage of the free training and become diversity champions, and says the training can improve nurses’ leadership capabilities.

His trust has managers who are diversity champions and it paid the RCN to train them.

‘This is good training for anybody who wants to be a diversity champion, whether they are a nurse or not. We should make
a bigger push for all staff to engage in this but I think resources would restrict us from encouraging [a complete] roll-out,’
Mr Parker says.

‘The champions are there to ensure we allocate resources according to the needs of the patient. We want people who will help us to ensure the services we provide are for all, that our policies are not discriminating, our protocols do not discriminate and that our practices do not discriminate,’ he adds.

Making sure that every patient is heard and understood

For Zeba Arif, nurse and team leader in forensic psychiatry at North London Forensic Service in Chase Farm Hospital, becoming an RCN diversity champion is a continuation of many years of patient advocacy.

Zeba’s ethnic origin is Pakistani but she trained in London, where she experienced bullying. ‘In those days I used to think it was par for the course as I looked and sounded different,’ she says.

Zeba later became a steward for the RCN and realised this behaviour was unacceptable. She is now on the steering group of the RCN’s London Equality Network and the steering committee of the NHS BME Leadership Forum.

At work she became an interpreter in Asian languages, using her skills to help health workers care for Asian patients.

Her advocacy role began, she recalls, after an incident in which a Bengali woman was brought to the hospital after trashing her home. She was diagnosed as psychotic but a conversation with Zeba revealed her husband had brought a new wife from Bangladesh.

Zeba says: ‘She was very rational. So I said to the consultant “she’s not psychotic, she’s as sane as you and I”.’

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