The unequal impact of COVID-19 on nursing staff

 Dame Donna Kinnair 30 Oct 2020 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Understanding the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) nursing staff during COVID-19 is the first step to truly supporting our diverse workforce to feel safe at work.

COVID-19 has changed the way that we live and work – and the way you are being asked to provide care in your workplaces. And sadly, it has also revealed and exacerbated existing health inequalities as well as failings in our health and care systems. 

But from the outset of the pandemic, it has also been evident that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 and BAME nursing staff have had a dangerously harder experience of COVID-19 to their White British counterparts. 

It may sound obvious, but as nursing staff, we should feel safe when we go to work. I have heard from so many of you that you’ve felt unsafe and frightened at work because of a lack of correctly fitting personal protective equipment or because your risk assessments hadn’t been conducted. And this is alongside reports of BAME nurses being asked to work in COVID-19 positive wards before their peers. 

This situation is and was unacceptable so in June this year, I was pleased that some of our members took these concerns directly to Parliament and attended an online roundtable with Baroness Lawrence to inform her review into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups. 

Our members eloquently explained the realities and challenges they’ve faced during COVID-19, including the structural racism and barriers which exist. The final Lawrence review - published this week - features their stories and it reflects many of the recommendations we are asking the government to adopt. 

These recommendations include implementing cross-government strategies to tackle health and race inequalities and to recognise the limitations of the term BAME, as it can silence the complexities of identities and experiences of the people it hopes to represent. 

And it looks as if the government are beginning to listen. This month, the Minister for Equalities committed to mandating ethnicity reporting on death certification. This comes directly after our campaigning efforts alongside our members, demanding that the government publish data on the number of staff – by demographic and job role - who have contracted, received treatment for or passed away from COVID-19. 

This data is needed because without it, there can be no scrutiny. The government and organisations across the UK need this data to inform policy making and decisions about health care worker safety. 

You should be safe when you go to work. When the emerging evidence and the lived experience of our members is there and is saying that BAME staff are at increased risk, nursing staff should not need to fight for change to happen. 

As we come to the end of Black History Month, it is vital that we maintain this momentum so that we are confident that whoever you are and wherever you work, you are recognised as the highly skilled professionals that you are and given the tools and resources to do your jobs safely. 

Further information:
Read our submission to the Lawrence review.
Read the full report An Avoidable Crisis by Baroness Lawrence.
RCN Black History month.
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 - 30/10/2020