Michael Baptiste says a real sense of commitment to tackling discrimination in the NHS is significantly lacking
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has embarked on a mission to ensure fairness in disciplinary cases against NHS black and minority ethnic (BME) staff. This is an ambitious initiative. However, most BME staff widely perceive that the RCN still needs to assess its own understanding of BME cultures in order to address this issue successfully.
To tackle the aforementioned issue, the RCN launched a cultural ambassador programme in October 2014. The programme aimed to train senior BME nurses to be cultural ambassadors, who would challenge any discrimination, cultural bias or unfairness they saw during disciplinary and grievance proceedings. They were also trained to understand the workings of the Equality Act 2010 and equipped with the knowledge and remit to identify and contest prejudice.
However, based on empirical evidence I state that the above pronouncements are more talk than real decisive action in terms of genuinely addressing discrimination against BME staff. I am yet to be convinced as a BME nurse that the above approach is being followed and bearing results.
While discussing the cultural ambassador’s role, as encouraging as it may sound in terms of offering some sort of support to BME staff, one should not lose sight of the ground reality when trying to implement the role.
The intervention of the cultural ambassador would stem from any disciplinary action taken by the employer. In most cases, the same NHS Trust whose procedural flaws the cultural ambassador sets out to challenge might employ the cultural ambassador. Consequently, in my experience, such a challenge has lacked the robust approach. This may have been the case due to the cultural ambassador’s apprehensiveness of the employer’s reaction.
A salient point to note is that the cultural ambassador has observer status, but there is no mention about producing an independent report of his or her findings, which would have authority to influence the outcome of these matters. Due to the lack of such authority, I strongly believe that this program is a charade. What is significantly lacking is a real sense of commitment to tackling discrimination in the NHS. This must be a conscious decision based on the authority of one’s conscience.
Those who are involved in the campaign to fight against discrimination in the NHS should examine their consciences to determine whether enough action has been taken or is taking place. I sincerely hope that from the mountains of despair that surround this issue of discrimination, BME staff will one day be able to hew out a stone of hope, knowing that this situation can and will be changed.
RN Dip HE (Dist). BSc (Hons). (CPE). Pgdl. BVC (PG cert). MA