Caroline Rennalls, Head of Resilience Management, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust
The need for stronger discrimination strategies and a real review about recruitment, retention and the development of BAME staff
As she was growing up, Caroline Rennalls used to wait outside the hospital where her mum worked as an auxiliary nurse: “I always liked the fact that she finished her day and felt like she’d made a difference. For her it was that direct patient care, the washing, the dressing, the feeding. I said during my first job interview, I want to make a difference.”
An adopted child of Jamaican parents who emigrated to the UK, Caroline also longed to work as part of a team. “That was quite important because I’m an only child, I come from a small family,” she explains. “Both these things are what drew me to the NHS initially.”
Following in her mum’s footsteps, Caroline trained as a nurse and later secured an MBA which laid the foundations to her becoming Head of Resilience Management and Operations.
She acknowledges missing direct contact with patients but sees her current role as a way to make a bigger difference: “I missed the fact that patients didn't know my name. But I quickly understood that my actions can affect more people in a different way. If I can change systems or improve processes, I'm actually affecting more people.”
"People need to understand that it isn’t up to people of colour to sort out racism in the NHS"
The difference Caroline wants to make, however, goes beyond improving patient pathways in hospital. Ironically, it hinges on the recognition that she herself shouldn’t be responsible for making this difference: “People need to understand that it isn’t up to people of colour to sort out racism in the NHS, which I think seems to have been the approach historically.”
At the age of fifty-five, she does want to make a difference for the sake of her own daughters, who are also contemplating careers in the NHS, training to be a therapist and neuropsychologist respectively. She says: “I'd like to see that, in their careers, my daughters are credited for their skill and ability, and I'd like to see the NHS acknowledge that it needs to make changes and implement stronger strategies for discrimination.”
Caroline identifies with the case of Mary Seacole (1805-1881), a British-Jamaican healer and female doctor who nursed wounded soldiers on the battlefield in the Crimean War. Although Mary Seacole was arguably the first nurse practitioner in the UK, most people have never heard of her. Instead, it is Florence Nightingale who is credited solely with being the pioneer of modern nursing.
"[It] feels like I am being gas lighted at times"
Accrediting people with the ideas they have is another change that Caroline wants to see. She talks of her personal experience: “I will come up with an idea and then have it presented to me as someone else’s idea, which feels like I am being gas lighted at times.
‘’I tend to get called an angry black woman. Not by everybody. And I have to correct them and say, ‘my assertiveness is not anger; you expect me to be passive. I am capable and competent, and that's difficult for you.’ It's about perception and as I've got older, I've been more vocal about it. I don't accept it.”
Caroline highlights the need for “a real review about recruitment, retention and the development of BAME staff.” She adds: “I'd also like to see that all recruiting managers acknowledge their intrinsic biases, and understand how they need to change their structures and their policies.
"There is a big conversation happening in the NHS at the moment about what to do and how to improve it"
“There is a big conversation happening in the NHS at the moment about what to do and how to improve it. But the outcome of that big conversation has not yet been published. That's a work in progress.”
Genevieve Shaw, Editor