We must ask the tough questions about the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities

 Dame Donna Kinnair 30 Apr 2020 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Donna Kinnair reflects on this week’s minute of silence, and how it highlighted an inescapable truth.

The staff of Britain’s hospitals, clinics and care homes are as diverse as they are skilled. Only the United Nations can rival our health and care services as a rich tapestry of nationalities and cultures.

Since the Windrush generation helped to build the early NHS, each new decade has seen the UK attract the best talent from around the world and offer fantastic careers to people who chose to make our home their home too – spanning every profession and pay grade.

This week, as the nation fell silent to pay respects to key workers who have died, many media outlets compiled photomontages of their faces. The tapestry images I saw were a testament to the diversity we love to celebrate and that makes us stronger. But there is an inescapable truth: black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are losing a disproportionate amount of people to this terrible virus. 

Early and precautionary action must be taken by employers. One led the way by saying it will offer priority testing to BAME staff and add them to the list of ‘vulnerable’ staff to be afforded greater protection. Now, the NHS in England has confirmed its expectation of greater risk assessments and redeployment of staff.

Hundreds of BAME nurses joined a call a few days ago to raise concerns about their treatment, experience and the science. One described the heightened hostility towards non-white staff in a new climate of fear. Another said that agency nurses from BAME backgrounds are moved or pressured to work on COVID-19 wards and that non-permanent staff struggle to get all PPE required, and point to the existing structural inequalities and increased exposure. Some have focused on the science, questioning whether biology plays a role.

The RCN is determined to bring together the evidence on this experience faced by some of our members and speak up for them. We are able to ask the tough questions on the levels of BAME representation in decision-making and leave others in no doubt of the health care contribution made by these professionals.

I will give evidence, support and close scrutiny to the government’s review into why this virus is tearing through communities like mine. It is not a curious epidemiological study. It is a matter of life and death and answers cannot come a moment too soon.

Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Page last updated - 30/04/2020