Nursing: Minority Interest? ; New Initiatives Are an Attempt to Address the Urgent Need for More Black and Asian Nurses, Says Kate Hilpern

By Hilpern, Kate | The Independent (London, England), March 26, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Nursing: Minority Interest? ; New Initiatives Are an Attempt to Address the Urgent Need for More Black and Asian Nurses, Says Kate Hilpern


Hilpern, Kate, The Independent (London, England)


Pamela Samuel, 52, is development adviser in equality and diversity at Bradford Hospital Trust. Committed to raising the intake and prospects for ethnic minorities in nursing careers, she believes the health service should be "as diverse as the communities it serves".

It is particularly significant that African Caribbean, South Asian and Chinese people in the UK have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, stroke and mental health problems than the general population. The story with heart disease is even more depressing. While it is falling among the indigenous population, it is rising among some ethnic minority groups including South Asians.

"Research shows that many members of these groups don't seek professional healthcare because they believe their cultural needs may not be addressed - a fear that would inevitably be helped somewhat by more frontline NHS staff reflecting their ethnicity," says Mark Johnson, professor of diversity in health and social care, and associate director of the Mary Seacole Research Centre at Leciester's De Montfort University.

Accurate statistics on numbers of minority ethnic nurses are problematic because there is no systematic central monitoring, but latest Department of Health figures report 4.7 per cent black and 1.5 per cent Asian amongst qualified nursing staff, with 6.9 per cent either classified as "other" or "unknown". So what is being done to improve these figures?

At the Oxleas NHS Trust, which is responsible for mental health services in Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich, facilities such as prayer rooms and menus that suit different religious requirements have been introduced. "In fact, the number of minority ethnic staff at Oxleas now reflects the local community," says Jeff Brennan, head of nursing practice. "Our focus has shifted to the issue of the glass ceiling: ensuring that minority ethnic staff move beyond E, F and G grades."

One of its most successful initiatives is Profile, the first stage of which involves advertising its workshops to minority ethnic staff. At the workshops, perceived obstacles to promotion are discussed, as well as potential strategies to overcome them. Examples include shadowing senior professionals or mentoring. All the issues are then brought back to the trust and a working party takes them forward. "The key is to focus on the nurse's needs rather than me being prescriptive and as such, the interest has been good and the feedback positive,' says Sharon Murray, Profile co- ordinator.

When it comes to recruitment, Professor Sally Glen, dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at City University in London, says, "The rates of student nurses from the Asian community are poor. It is a pertinent issue for City University because we are on the edge of the largest Bengali population in Europe, with around 100,000 people in East London having a Bengali background. We also have a very large school of nursing, with around 1,500 undergraduate pre- registration nurses. Yet only three are currently Bengali."

Like many universities around the country, in an attempt to overcome this, they have been doing outreach work in the local Asian community.

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