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Black and Asian nurses struggle to get vital protective kit

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Issue 2707
BME nurses are being put at a higher risk (Pic: Joshua Cowden/

A shocking new report says that black and minority ethnic (BME) nurses find it harder to get Personal Protective Equipment than their white colleagues.

The figures raise questions about institutional racism in the health service.

The survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says the disparity is clearest when nurses were asked about access to fluid-repellent gowns. Some 37 percent of BME staff reported they didn’t have enough during their shifts, compared to just 19 percent of white British staff.

It also noted that only 43 percent of BME nursing staff on the coronavirus frontline say they had access to enough face and eye protection. In comparison, it found 66 percent of white British nurses said they had sufficient access to the same equipment.

The report sheds light on why black and Asian health workers have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus. Six in ten of health workers killed by Covid-19 are BME.

The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted inequality in the NHS.

The Nursing Times magazine reported recently that BME nurses and nursing assistants have complained of being taken from their normal wards to work on Covid-19 wards, and that many suspect that bias and prejudice are involved.


A 2016 workplace study of racism in the NHS found that at 81 percent of trusts a higher proportion of BME staff said they had personally experienced discrimination from their supervisor.

It also showed that black and Asian nurses were less likely than white colleagues to rise to become senior nurses on higher pay bands and with more responsibility.

The report found that BME people are concentrated at the bottom rungs of the service, but rarely found among the “snowy white peaks” of management.

Donna Kinnair, RCN general secretary, said, “It is simply unacceptable that we are in a situation where BME nursing staff are less protected than other nursing staff. These results reinforce our call for BME nursing staff to have specific risk assessments to reflect the risks they face as a result of Covid-19.

“All of our nursing staff must have the protection they need, and action must be taken urgently to ensure they are all kept safe. We look forward to getting more answers from Public Health England’s investigation into the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BME groups.”

Unions representing health workers now face a serious and urgent task.

They must actively take up the cause of BME members facing direct and indirect discrimination.

That means demanding proper risk assessments for those who may be in greater danger from the coronavirus.

And the unions should back workers who come down hard on managers, at all levels, that are using divide and rule tactics to get their way

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