Agency nurse claims she lost work for speaking out about quality of PPE given to BAME NHS staff

I have spent the last few months closely following the impact Covid-19 has had on Black, Asian, and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities.

When I say closely, I mean watching in disbelief as the number of BAME deaths increased, asking numerous scientists why they appear to be hit harder than white people, and speaking to ethnic minority frontline workers to get their take on what is going on and why they think so many BAME NHS workers are losing their lives.

The answers I've been given have been disappointing and insightful in equal measure.

We don't know yet whether just being Black or Asian means you're at greater risk if you catch coronavirus, there's no scientific evidence to suggest that is the case and until more research is done we can't answer that.

What is clear is that other factors appear to make BAME communities more at risk, for instance ethnic minorities tend to live in more urban built-up areas, live in multi-occupied, multi-generational households, work in more public facing jobs and live in deprived areas - all factors that might expose them more to coronavirus.

What I have found most worrying and disappointing are the conversations I have had with healthcare workers.

ITV News' exclusive survey revealed that the vast majority of those asked felt discrimination in the NHS was having the biggest effect on BAME workers.

We heard allegations of Black and Asian members of staff being moved to more risky areas, a lack of care and protection shown from senior management and countless testimonies of workers who felt too afraid to speak up about a lack of PPE for fear of retribution.

The government promised to look into this, and indeed, it published it long awaited report on Tuesday.

Did it hold the answers to why BAME communities are being disproportionately affected? No.

Did it publish an action plan or recommendations to ensure any sort of discrimination or health inequalities in this country are addressed and solved? No. More disappointment.

Now, I have spoken to a black healthcare assistant who claims she is proof BAME nurses have been put at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Millie Raphael is an agency healthcare assistant who said she had shifts cancelled after challenging PPE quality. Credit: ITV News

Millie Raphael is an agency healthcare assistant who was sent to work at Eastbourne General Hospital at the height of the virus outbreak.

She says when she arrived, all the nurses on a Covid ward were questioning the PPE being offered to them by the sister of the ward.

Millie said she wanted more than the apron, gloves and surgical mask she was told to wear and said she'd rather go home than put herself at risk.

The hospital claims an argument ensued and Millie went in search of a higher level of PPE, which she found and continued with her shift.

The next day the agency contacted her to say the hospital cancelled all her future shifts.

Let's be clear, the hospital Trust insists the appropriate PPE was available and a higher level was not necessary. And they say the reason they terminated her shifts was because of Millie's behaviour.

But Millie does not see it that way.

She says there were seven Black and Asian nurses working with her that day, all were concerned for their and their patients safety and they didn't feel protected.She also says, rather movingly, that it was her mother who inspired her to speak up. Her mum is also a nurse, and had she been asked to work on a Covid ward with the PPE being offered, she would have just said yes, without questioning it.

Now Milis worried her shifts were cancelled because she spoke up and paid the price.

The events surrounding Millie happened before Trusts were ordered by NHS England to risk assess their BAME workers.

Nevertheless, at the time there was huge uncertainty around why ethnic minorities were being so affected, so shouldn't her fears been taken seriously and dealt with sympathetically?

Millie's account resonates with everything we discovered in our survey and is a sad illustration of what is claimed goes on throughout this country.

The government insists part two of the review into Disparities of Covid-19 is still being worked on and will be dealt with shortly.

Many want it to set out actions and take this opportunity to address health inequalities once and for all.