'Some patients refuse to be seen by me': NI health workers tell of racism during Covid

Health workers from ethnic minority backgrounds have spoken to UTV about the racial abuse they have been subjected to, whilst simply doing their job during the coronavirus pandemic.

"A few patients would refuse to be seen by me," explained Dr Darshan Kumar, a Clinical Lead in Acute Medicine at the Northern Trust.

"This happened when I was a Trainee Registrar. It did make me feel low," said Dr Kumar, who moved here in 2010, said.

"But it was during those times that the consultant stepped in and made the patient realise it was a mistake so these things and supportive mechanisms are very important for anyone," he said.

Along with verbal abuse, Onyebuchi Amadi, an agency Healthcare Assistant, has experienced physical abuse.

Onyebuchi Amadi only moved to Northern Ireland from Nigeria in March 2021. Credit: UTV

"I was going to work. I had a few kids throwing stones at me while I was walking to work," she said.

"After I moved 10 steps ahead of them, I saw a few stones hit me and when I turned, they were literally laughing and giggling so it made me feel bad."

"It is mostly verbal. They just say - 'Go back to your country' or 'I can't hear what you're saying,' Onyebuchi explained.

Mohammad Samanaa, a Belfast Trust Staff Nurse, has had similar experiences to Onyebuchi.

Mohammad Samanna, a staff nurse who works in the City and Royal Victoria Hospitals Credit: UTV

"I had stones thrown at me. I was told I came to live here on benefits, but as you can see, I'm here working, but the stereotype is that immigrants come to live on benefits.

"It makes you feel like why did I come here?" said Mohammad, who is originally from Palestine.

"I would say that's not acceptable," said the Health Minister Robin Swann when asked about racist abuse against staff.

Health Minister, Robin Swann Credit: UTV

"All of our Trusts, my Department has a zero tolerance policy and that should be upheld.

"If there are those people that have concerns, they should bring it forward to their managers or their trade unions and if that's not getting a satisfactory answer, bring it to us here in the Department because that's not something that I, as the Minister, find acceptable," the Minister explained.

It is not just racial abuse that health workers have had to worry about during the pandemic.

Studies have shown that people from minority ethnic backgrounds were more at risk of Covid.

Initial data from the start of the pandemic showed that a disproportionate number of doctors and other health workers from Black Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds died after contracting Covid-19.

According to the Health Service Journal, despite only 21% of all healthcare staff being from , 63% of healthcare staff who died were from a BAME background.

More recent UK government analysis says that a range of risk factors help to explain this correlation, including living in larger/multigenerational households, living in high population density areas and high levels of deprivation.

However, exact details around this correlation are not yet fully understood and studies are still ongoing.

"The BAME community have a genetic make up which make them more susceptible to Covid and even more susceptible to dying with Covid, so these are the things coming out in the studies," Dr Mukesh Chugh, a Consultant Anaesthetist at the Western Trust said.

Dr Mukesh Chugh who works in Altnagelvin Hospital Credit: UTV

"There has been quite disturbing figures, which are quite alarming," he added.

"The fear was there. The apprehension was there. But in our Trust, the Northern Trust, the way we stood up and looked after each other, I'm extremely proud of," said Dr Kumar who is of Indian heritage.

Across the various health trusts, various ethnic minority support groups have been set up for people from different backgrounds to share their experiences.

"They can raise their concerns and issues they have in a safe and confidential manner so they will taken up to the respective managers who will handle these issues with the background knowledge of ethnicity and cultural awareness," said Dr Chugh.

"We just came together and helped each other. I feel we have supported each and every individual in the workforce," Dr Kumar explained.

Dr Darshan Kumar has started a family and become a British citizen since moving to Northern Ireland Credit: UTV

"We needed fearlessness - if there was any aspect of racism, inequality or discrimination then we should reporting system that we can look into.

"There are still lots of things to do. Education is the key going forward," Dr Kumar added.