COVID-19| Black nursing leader’s demand health system equality, diversity and human rights

By Thomas L Blair 28 May 2020 © updated 30 May

Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu

Through protest, prayers, policy research and persuasion, Black nurses and allied professionals have attracted thousands to conferences and Zoom webinars against the Covid-19 high rates of infection, disease, death and discrimination afflicting them and their communities.

The issues and goals are clear. “We came to serve, not needlessly to die”, say leading nursing administrators, health care professionals, key workers, local government directors of public health, researchers, theoreticians and activists.


Campaign Tirelessly For Improved Wages, Status and Esteem

Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu, the first British born Nigerian Professor of Nursing says “I’m not satisfied until gaps in service for BME patients and health professionals are addressed”. The tireless campaigner has led public awareness of the devoted, pioneering work of Black nurses. Notably, she successfully campaigned for a memorial statue of Crimean war heroine Mary Seacole in the grounds of St Guy’s and Thomas’ Hospital London.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Exec & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, says “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.

“Hundreds of BAME nurses have joined a call to raise concerns about their treatment and experience”, she says.  “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. non-permanent staff struggle to get all the personal protective equipment (PPE) required. Others condemn the existing structural inequalities and increased exposure”.

Create Change-Making Opportunities

Dr Joan Myers OBE, Director and Trustee of the Florence Nightingale Foundation symbolises the drive for “professionalism, leadership, opportunity and empowerment”. Notably, in an hour long webinar she described how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

Pryncess Wendy Olayiwola RN, RM, FRSA Midwifery Advocate and President, Nigeria Nurses Charitable Association UK with 3000 nurses nationwide, says “It’s time to celebrate, empower and support all Nigerian Nurses and Midwives globally for their selfless services”. Valuing Diversity – Embracing Change are her important goals.

Define and Debate the Most Relevant Issues

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, England’s Chief Midwifery Officer, inspires excellence in maternal care and the reduction of maternal mortality among Black British women and across the African continent,

Nursing Professor Laura Serrant OBE of Manchester Metropolitan University has said “Without Black nurses — from the Caribbean and the Commonwealth – we wouldn’t have the NHS we have now. They saved it”.

Dr Titilola Banjoko an NHS executive director and member of the Royal African Society, encourages an agenda of issues that links UK Black nursing communities with Africa and the diaspora. These include

  • Social economic issues: employment, living standards, lifestyle and health
  • Financial and economic implications
  • Impact on small businesses and wider UK economy
  • The role of government policies and impact on social narrative

Yvonne Coghill, CBE, Royal College of Nursing Deputy President  says “The fact that we’ve only got 10 BME chief nurses in the whole country shows that there is work still to be done”. Furthermore, Ms Coghill who is also the director of Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) at NHS England says “We must pay attention to this now. We need decisive action to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on nursing staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds”.

Felicia Kwaku, a Cardiothoracic and General Intensive Care nurse and Zoom webinars host, aims “to improve the health of Black and minority ethnic people in the UK”. Also the director of nursing at the Clementine Churchill Hospital, Ms Kwaku was named by the Health Service Journal as “one of the leading 50 black and minority ethnic pioneers in the UK.

Set Achievable Goals

Joan Saddler, director of partnerships and equality at the NHS Confederation and co-chair of the NHS Equality and Diversity Council says “The benefits to the NHS of a more equal and diverse leadership are well understood. She seeks to “shape the future of healthcare from an equality, diversity and human rights perspective”. And she has set three goals to achieve this.

  • Creating inclusive workplaces and reducing bullying
  • Eliminating discriminatory practice and improving organisational performance on equality.
  • Improving access and outcomes particularly for protected and disadvantaged groups

Chart the Journey from Pandemic Crisis to a Better Future

Black nurses and communities are leery that their susceptibility to the pandemic crisis reinforces views of them as helpless and hopeless. However, the evidence shows they have handled their rights struggle reasonably well. They want government and NHS policymakers to find solutions to their in-work protection and raise key workers’ low wages, status and esteem.

Nevertheless, through their vigorous response to COVID-19, Black nurses and health professionals have exposed two crucial shortcomings in NHS institutions. One is the shocking high rates of Black affliction. The other is the failure to its Black and minority ethnic staff.

Moreover, the prestigious Nursing Times supports this view: “Black and minority ethnic (BME) health professionals have reported feeling like they are going “unseen” and “unheard” and believe they are working in unsafe conditions”. Furthermore, a Channel 4 News survey  found that “more than half of BME staff in NHS trusts in England feel additional pressure to work on the coronavirus frontline”.

Caring hands/Nursing Times

Of course there is no simple solution either to the immediate crisis or underlying concerns. Nurses  will continue to do what nurses do: “safely attending patients to the best professional standards”. But suffering quietly and gracefully won’t change the odds. Pleading to failing health system administrators is not enough to secure and sustain a victory.

However, they can chart a better future through positive collective action.

Put forward the voice for Black public health in the Prime minister’s Cabinet, Ministers and Secretaries of state for Health and Social Care, the Home Office, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Organise a new National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) that is a progressive voice for the thousands of registered nurses, licensed vocational/practical nurses, nursing students and retired nurses, with fraternal alliances to public health organisations and communities in Africa and the global diaspora.


Covid-19 and high Black risks: The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has officially revealed what many have long suspected: Black people are at significantly increased risk of dying from the coronavirus, Black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death and Black females are 4.3 times more likely than white females.

Maternal care and mortality: Black women in the UK are five times more likely to die from complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth than white women. Therefore, Black nurses and midwives call for an urgent review of care and mortality with recommendations. The goal is to ensure it is no more dangerous for Black women to give birth in the UK than white women.

Black nurses – Carrying the torch from West Indians to Nigerians and Commonwealth Africans: The record shows there were more than 3,000 women from the Caribbean training as nurses in British hospitals by 1954. Today, Nigerians in the NHS have followed the pioneering Windrush generation of the mid-20th century. An estimated 5,405 Nigerians occupy the 9th position out of 157 employed nationalities, and their contributions cannot be overlooked. For example, the Nigerian Healthcare Professionals UK (NHCPUK) Excellence Awards 2019 attracted over 200 candidates in various posts and disciplines, according to The African Voice.

Start Catching Up On the Views Of Leading Black Health Care Professionals, Key Workers, Institutional Administrators, Local Government Directors Of Public Health, Researchers, Theoreticians And Activists. See our earliest articles – and watch out for those coming soon.