The coronavirus report by Public Health England looking into the reasons why people from BAME backgrounds were four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population, would have arguably been disappointing to fallen NHS heroes, Milton Hanson and Rosie Purves, who witnessed the brutality of racism in the NHS first hand.
The full Public Health England report investigating the reasons why people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population can now be read online.(Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups June 2020)
The report highlights various factors such as poor housing, inadequate access to healthcare and racism in employment as some of the potential reasons why people from BAME backgrounds were dying at disproportional levels from Covid-19.
Importantly, the report indicates that racial discrimination played a role in the findings. It said, “Stakeholders clearly articulated an understanding that COVID-19 did not create health inequalities, but rather the pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME groups in the UK” (pg 27)
Stakeholders also mentioned that people from BAME backgrounds tend to live in poorer housing and deprived neighbourhoods which has a wider impact on health and access to decent healthcare. (Pg 30)
The report recommended seven key strategies for the government to tackle these inequalities. (BBC: 16 June, 2020: Coronavirus: Report on BAME Covid-19 deaths sparks call for action)
Colin Beesley, the media advisor for the Royal College of Midwives had this to say about the report:
“The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says we must learn lessons from a Public Health England report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities published yesterday.
Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Inequality was already embedded in our society and in our health services before the pandemic. Women from black and Asian backgrounds were more likely to die in pregnancy and after having a baby, and more than half of pregnant women recently admitted to hospital with COVID-19 were black or Asian.
“The pandemic has brought the terrible issues of racism and inequality out of the shadows and into the full glare of daylight. It hits and hurts those from BAME communities using our NHS and the many NHS staff from those communities who care for them. We must learn the lessons and we must act on this report.”
The cosmetic make-up that hides the ugly underbelly of racism
I believe that BAME communities are at a crucial moment in racial political history, and either we cease the moment and continue the genuine battle for racial equal rights that previous generations fought hard towards, or we allow the often broken promises of government to mislead us into another generation of lost hope.
The report did not go far enough and did not deal with the ugly underbelly of racism.
For example, the disgraceful sacking of Milton Hanson (pictured top right) who literally gave his life for the NHS. Hanson worked in the NHS for 35 years but was sacked by the King’s College NHS Trust for whistle-blowing in 2003.
Milton exposed the racially degrading and barbaric treatment of black people at the Caldecot sexual health clinic where he worked. One European nurse boasted about pushing the urethral probe much farther up black males to cause them pain. Staff routinely racially abused black patients and deliberately left black female patients exposed on examination chairs.
Milton went through the proper channels to complain as is procedure with the NHS, but he felt that his complaints were brushed aside and ignored. This led him speak out on community radio station Power Jam, where he spoke about what he witnessed to radio presenter, Kwaku Bonsu.
He was sacked for whistle-blowing and struck off the nursing register for life. Ironically, he was sacked by top black NHS executive Michael Parker. Knowing that he could never work again in the job that he loved so much, Milton took it to heart and his health gradually declined.
He returned to Jamaica in 2005 and continued to speak out about what he witnessed, but sadly he suffered a stroke and in November 2005, at the Port Antonio Hospital, he died on November 5 2005, age 57.
What recommendation I wonder would the report have for what Milton witnessed?
Rosie Purves (Pictured top left) was a nurse who worked for Southampton General Hospital for over 30 years.
In 2004 she took her health bosses at Southampton University Hospitals to a tribunal after she was prevented from looking after a white child who had cystic fibrosis, because the racist mother demanded it. Rosie endured seven years of racism from the mother and rather than deal with the racism, the hospital accommodated the mother’s racist beliefs by moving Rosie to a different ward each time.
Rosie won her case but sadly lost her battle to ovarian cancer in June 2010. (Watson: 7 June, 2010: Black nurse who fought against racism in the NHS dies of cancer)
These are just two examples of past black NHS heroes who dared to stand up and challenge the racism in the NHS.
Ten years on and a global pandemic uncovers similar racist practices in the NHS.
In my article Black lives don’t matter in the NHS: BAME NHS workers speak out on the Covid frontlines (Watson: 13 May, 2020), nurses from BAME backgrounds spoke of systemic racist practices that resulted in doctors and nurses from BAME backgrounds being cowardly pushed by management to the front lines as if their lives were worth less than their white colleagues.
All of this was happening whilst we were encouraged to clap for our NHS workers. I wonder how many people from BAME communities would clap now in light of these revelations?
Laws and legislation cannot create real racial equality
I want to conclude this article by putting forward an argument that I have often stated over and over again when it comes to race relations.
You cannot force people through law or legislation to like or respect people from BAME backgrounds. Whilst they may obey the letter of the law for fear of prosecution, their attitudes towards people from BAME backgrounds will remain unchanged.
Here lies the problem with the report and race relations in general, there was no natural evolution of race equality in the UK, it was arguably forced on the population. Force is not change and change will not come from imposing more race laws and legislation on the indigenous UK population.
For further research:
Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups (June 2020: By Public Health England)
Coronavirus: Report on BAME Covid-19 deaths sparks call for action (BBC: 16 June, 2020)
Black nurse who fought against racism in the NHS dies of cancer (Watson: 7 June, 2010)
To view the RCM’s resources on COVID-19 including information and guidance for NHS maternity staff and pregnant women, visit https://www.rcm.org.uk/coronavirus/.
The Public Health England report can be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-understanding-the-impact-on-bame-communities.
The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at https://www.rcm.org.uk/.