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Charmaine Robinson, Tissue Viability Nurse Specialist, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Trust

Turning racist behaviour on its head through pioneering a Kindness Campaign, and calling for a new campaign to encourage Black and Asian staff to apply for senior positions

Tissue Viability Nurse Specialist Charmaine Robinson has become quite a star of late, and an advocate for Black and Asian hospital workers who experience abuse. Interviewed for the BBC and quoted in article by Ross Lydell in the Evening Standard, she also spoke this year at the NHS England internal event for Tackling Racism and Violence.

"We need to be kinder to each other ... not just in the workplace, but on the street. Everywhere. People have forgotten how to be kind. [we've gone] from a clap to a slap"

Recently Charmaine decided enough was enough when a patient called her an offensive and racially derogatory term at work. She says: “I gave him three chances to apologise. My duty of care is to give the best of me.” The man repeated his insult, so Charmaine refused to treat him, explaining that she felt angry, undervalued and sad.

Charmaine describes the frequent verbal abuse she has suffered from the general public at work over her 25 year-career in the NHS. Following this recent abusive episode she filed a complaint, and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust decided to take action by supporting the launch of a Kindness Campaign.

The Kindness Campaign can be seen everywhere in the hospital. All around the walls are photos of hospital staff, and beneath each photo is a text explaining who that member of staff is and what they do. There is also a second text outlining an abusive experience that particular member of staff has experienced at work and how it has made them feel – upset, angry, disappointed or undervalued.

“We need to be kinder to each other,” says Charmaine. “Not just in the workplace, but on the street. Everywhere. Everyone has become so unkind and unhappy. I think people have forgotten how to be kind.” In fact, it seems unfathomable that we have gone from applauding the NHS frontline staff on the streets to them receiving racist insults from members of the general public on the ward. She acknowledges: "from a clap to a slap!”

"the people in senior positions don’t represent the workforce"

Pleased that the Kindness Campaign has got off the ground, Charmaine’s many colleagues from Black and Asian backgrounds have thanked her: “I’ve given them hope that they can actually complain and something will get done,” she admits.

One of the problems is that racist abuse suffered by staff at work often goes unreported. Nurses fear they will not be believed, or will be blamed themselves. By portraying hospital workers as human beings telling the stories of what has happened to them, free from anger or recrimination, Charmaine hopes it will make people think twice before behaving abusively towards her and her colleagues at work.

Overt abusive behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg though. Charmaine voices the need for greater representation, and for black and Asian people to be recruited into positions of authority. “When you look up,” she states, “the people in senior positions don’t represent the workforce.”

“Racism is ingrained. It’s part of the institution ... if something is going to change, it needs a massive 360-degree turn”

She talks about many experienced and qualified colleagues that have tried and failed to get promotions despite their white counterparts moving upwards: “Nurses tell me that they don’t want to apply for a secondment because it’s already been earmarked for someone else. They don’t want to go through the embarrassment anymore of going for a job and not getting it.”

Like many other Black and Asian nurses in the NHS, Charmaine calls for a review of recruitment practices. She also advocates a move towards positive discrimination and “a campaign to encourage black nurses and people of colour to go for higher position jobs.”

“Racism is ingrained. It’s part of the institution,” sums up Charmaine. “If something is going to change, it needs a massive 360-degree turn”.


Genevieve Shaw, Editor

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