Exclusive: Campaigners Call For Inquiry Into 'Injustices' Suffered By BAME NHS Staff

It follows a number of cases in which health service workers have taken their own lives.
Amin Abdullah and Terry Skitmore
Amin Abdullah and Terry Skitmore
Terry Skitmore - photo handout

Relatives of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) NHS workers who have taken their own lives are calling for an independent inquiry into the treatment of staff.

Campaigners say an investigation would help the NHS learn lessons and ensure that “injustices” do not happen again.

They include Terry Skitmore, whose partner Amin Abdullah, 41, an award-winning nurse, died after setting himself on fire outside Kensington Palace in 2016.

An inquest into his death heard that he suffered a “mental breakdown” over how his NHS employers handled his dismissal.

A petition has been set up by the chair of the British Indian Nurses Association, Marimouttou Coumarassamy, calling for the government to launch an “independent inquiry into injustices suffered by BAME NHS staff”.

It follows a number of other suicides of BAME members of NHS staff in recent years.

“There is a culture in the NHS of vindictiveness and bullying,” Skitmore told HuffPost UK.

“A lot of people don’t know and with all the problems they’ve got at the moment with pay, strikes and everything else, they probably don’t want to know. But we can’t let this go.

“It’s very interesting how many BME people keep on getting picked on so much.”

“I talked to Amin’s photograph every day. I never for a minute imagine that he can’t hear me and I'm not religious in any way like that. But, you know, it devastated my life. We were together 12 years.”

- Terry Skitmore

Abdullah’s inquest heard he had written a letter for another colleague caught up in a complaint made by a patient “to show how she could respond”, embroiling him in the issue.

He did not hear anything about the disciplinary process “for many weeks” and put in a grievance regarding the delays. On 21 December 2015 he was handed an instant dismissal on the grounds the letter he had written to support his colleague was “untrue”.

Abdullah died on February 9, 2016, weeks after being dismissed from Charing Cross Hospital. Skitmore said the delays in the disciplinary process eventually led to his Malaysian-born partner’s mental breakdown.

An independent report into his death found that he had been “treated unfairly” and that the investigating officer had repeatedly raised questions about Abdullah’s honesty “on the basis of little or no evidence”.

The report, commissioned by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, concluded: “It is clear from the evidence that nurse Abdullah was treated unfairly.”

Professor Tim Orchard, chief executive of the trust, said: “Above all else, it is now clear that we let Amin down and, for that, I am truly sorry.”

Following Abdullah’s death, Skitmore campaigned for new guidance for NHS managers which was rolled out to some trusts but not all. He would like to see it issued country-wide and points out it is a “cost free” improvement.

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 300 NHS nurses took their own lives between 2011 and 2017. The figures were 23 per cent higher than the national average.

More than 220 nurses also attempted to end their lives during the first year of Covid in 2020, according to the Laura Hyde Foundation.

Dr Narinder Kapur
Dr Narinder Kapur
Dr Narinder Kapur - handout

Dr Narinder Kapur, a visiting professor of neuropsychology at UCL, has long campaigned to help BME NHS staff who have suffered unfairness in the workplace.

He has firsthand experience of the issues raised by the petition after he was sacked by an NHS trust thirteen ago, shortly after blowing the whistle on health service cuts.

An employment tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed as head of neuropsychology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. The then health secretary Andrew Lansley ordered hospital managers to support whistleblowers.

“When Rishi Sunak was elected prime minister he stood at 10 Downing Street, and said integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level will be the keynote of my government,” Kapur said.

“If he’s really serious about that, then he should look at these things and ensure this applies to the NHS, to how staff are treated.

“These terms ‘equality, diversity, inclusion’ they’re all meaningless unless you actually have practical steps to put changes in place.”

Campaigners have demanded the abolition of what they describe as “kangaroo courts” and the splitting of the Care Quality Commission [CQC] regulator into two entities - a Patient CQC and a Healthcare Staff CQC.

They also called for a Staff Wellbeing Commissioner who would examine issues that impact on staff wellbeing.

Kapur, Skitmore and Coumarassamy plan to hand in the petition to Downing Street on Friday. It is timed to coincide with the 7 anniversary of the death of Abdullah.

The petition states: “We would like the government to commission an independent inquiry into injustices which have been suffered by BME NHS staff, to see what lessons can be learned so that such injustices do not happen again in the future, and to provide support and compassion to those who have suffered.”

A spokesperson for the department of health said: “The NHS has one of the most diverse workforces in the country and equality and respect are central to its culture. These values are at the heart of the NHS people plan.

“We want to do all we can to support staff from ethnic minority backgrounds to thrive and progress, and the NHS has taken action to improve recruitment processes and career opportunities.”

Sources said the NHS had taken action to improve recruitment processes and career opportunities for staff from ethnic minority backgrounds.


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