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Question Time: Dame Donna Kinnair describes the racism nurses face everyday

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Hollie Richardson
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Question Time: Donna Kinnair.

Discussions on this week’s Question Time centred on George Floyd’s deathsystemic racism in the UK and US, and the disproportionate number of BAME deaths linked to Covid-19.

On last night’s (4 June) episode of Question Time, the Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, spoke powerfully about the racism nurses experience.

Host Fiona Bruce started the conversation by asking: “Looking through your career, which is stellar […] you must have broken through quite a few glass ceilings to get where you have. Do you still see systemic issues with racism in the UK?”

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“As a nurse, you see it everyday,” Kinnair replied. “You see it both in the structure that you’re within, in the institution of health here, the NHS institution. If you look at how many managers have broken through the glass ceiling, black managers, you will see that there are very few.

“But also, as a nurse, we face these issues on a daily basis. Just look at the outcomes for our patients. You know, every single measure that you can apply, the outcomes are worse for black and minority ethnic patients.

“Whether it’s diabetes, whether it’s those who end up with amputations, the structure of our society is inherent: structural racism is inherent. And the outcomes are poor for a number of people that are of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”

She continued: “In terms of my career: yes, you do need to bash down some glass ceilings, you do have to circumvent some overtly racist people. But for me, just look at the health of our nation and that will tell you about some of the structural inequalities that we have.”

A virtual audience member later asked if the government should be doing more to protect people in the BAME community from Covid-19. It came after a Public Health Report was released on 2 June, confirming that people from ethnic minorities are at a much higher risk of dying from coronavirus. It’s still unclear, however, why this is the case. 

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“That whole report was commissioned on the basis of the question ‘why is this happening?’ And yet we’ve had surveillance, we’ve had statistics, but we haven’t yet answered why,” Kinnair answered.

“Nobody expected an answer to come overnight, but surely there’s much more we can do to protect nurses and staff… 

“I was on this programme not long ago saying we needed the most adequate PPE[…] It’s still patchy, there are some hospitals getting it but we know there are many carehomes that are still struggling to receive protective equipment. We also know that those district nurses are still struggling to get proper PPE.”

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She continued: “We don’t know from this report if it’s linked to occupation of exposure. We know the [viral load] increases the more exposed you are to the virus. And many BAME people work in frontline positions, we’ve seen that, through bus drivers, we’re seeing that most of our nurses are at band five delivering care, our health care assistants. There are many questions yet to be answered.”

Kinnair then went on the explain how she had put her own life at risk while working on the frontline with her colleagues, adding: “We really want people, if they are protesting [about George Floyd’s death], to observe social distancing.”

You can watch the full Newsnight episode on BBC iPlayer. 

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…