COVID-19, our BAME colleagues and working with purpose a reflection

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Kathryn Perera – 4th June 2020

Like most teams, the past three months have been hard for NHS Horizons. Even though many of us are used to working virtually, the shift to full-time separation from colleagues and collaborators has affected us all in our different ways.

A saving grace is the sense of purpose we’ve found in our work during this time. We’ve supported the design and delivery of large-scale change initiatives that have transformed decades-old NHS services in a matter of weeks, from video consultation roll-outs to the use of open-innovation platforms sourcing new solutions to this public health emergency. We’ve had the honour of leading the co-design and facilitation of national Health and Wellbeing virtual events, including a session presented by various NHS leaders from BAME backgrounds offering practical advice for how we can better listen to and support our BAME colleagues during the COVID-19 response period.

My initial role was twofold. First, I tried to provide some sort of “emotional leadership” for our team, spending time individually with each team member and helping to set a direction towards the sort of contribution we seemed well-placed to make during the COVID-19 response period. Second, I got busy. I sourced new commissions in priority programmes of work. I encouraged team members to roll up their sleeves and get to work; to focus on delivery; to use action as a means of sensing our way out of the immediate uncertainty.

Yet when I look back on these months, the moments that will stay with me aren’t when we simply turned inwards, nor when we pressed ahead with wired energy. The moments that will stay with me are those when we stopped denying the complexity of our experience and sought to embrace it instead.

It’s been a privilege to work alongside Prerana Issar, NHS Chief People Officer, to co-design and facilitate a range of virtual events with our NHS Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues and Staff Network leaders. We have not sought to draw simple conclusions. Rather, the fact that BAME groups in the UK are at markedly higher risk of developing and dying from COVID-19 has been our springboard for contributing to a step-change in the national conversation. We have sought to create virtual spaces where the emotional rawness of people’s immediate experience is both acknowledged and then directed towards purposeful collective action. We have stepped into the deep sense of outrage felt by many to plan how we maintain issues of race inequality at the top of the mainstream NHS agenda.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody in Minnesota, triggers nightly protests. The response of former President Obama acts as a rallying call for us all to do our bit in facing the complexity of our situation and providing hopeful leadership towards a different way:

“It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions … being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.

“This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 … It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”

The mirror and the light. It doesn’t have to be like this. Today, not tomorrow, is our opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment towards diversity, inclusion and equality.

In doing so, we are practising what Dr. Viktor Frankl, the notable psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, termed “Tragic Optimism”, or “the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.” The moments that will stay with me are when we embraced the mess of our current reality and tried to forge positive action regardless. Now more than ever, we need that tragic optimism.

Do you want to learn more about supporting BAME colleagues in our NHS and wider society? Here are my suggestions of where to start:

FOLLOW NHS leaders who share information, views and resources regularly:

Prerana Issar, NHS Chief People Officer.

Yvonne Coghill, Director of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) Implementation team, Deputy President of the Royal College of Nursing.

Lord Victor Adebowale, life peer and Chair of the NHS Confederation, which will host the newly established NHS Race and Health Observatory to identify and help transform the disproportionate effects that race is having on patients, communities and NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fatima Khan-Shah, an award-winning NHS patients/carers/public activist and a member of the NHS Assembly.

READ the work of thought-leaders who help us to understand the current and historical disparities of power that impact our BAME colleagues and BAME communities generally:

David Olusoga, Historian and broadcaster whose TV documentaries shed a light on the direct thread that runs from race inequalities in our British past through to the present day.

Afua Hirsch, Journalist and campaigner whose writing provokes us to think more expansively about the role of structural power and race inequalities in all aspects of modern British life.

Larissa Kennedy, the UK National Union of Students President Elect and campaigner, who shares links and resources to many organisations working with young activists to fight oppression.

DONATE to organisations with a stated commitment to developing the capabilities and confidence of BAME leaders as activists in our public life:

Campaign Bootcamp, which runs week-long intensive training programmes for people from marginalised communities to develop their skills and confidence to run great campaigns.

Act Build Change, which offers face-to-face and online training and coaching in Community Organising approaches to change, working mainly with people under-represented in mainstream politics and activism – and has just put out a #BlackLivesMatter resource pack for young activists.

UK activists have also acted in solidarity to post links to USA-based Mutual Aid Funds which provide support and assistance to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Find out more through this thread.

WATCH content which supports our understanding of the current unrest in the United States and its relevance to EVERYONE no matter where in the world we live:

Bryan Stevenson, We Need to Talk About an Injustice.

Trevor Noah, George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery and Amy Cooper.

Luvvie Ajay, Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable.