NHS issue apology to Liverpool nurse after landmark race discrimination case

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Royal College of Nursing say case ‘must drive change’ as NHS England apologises to senior nurse.

NHS England has apologised to a senior nurse from Liverpool after she won a landmark racial discrimination case.

A tribunal found unanimously in favour of Michelle Cox after hearing evidence that her employer had treated her unfavourably because of her race.

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Ms Cox, who describes herself as a Black woman, was employed by NHS England and NHS Improvement Commissioning, in Manchester, from May 2017. She said she faced racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation from her employer between 2019 and 2021.

Last year, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released figures showing racism is endemic in healthcare with White nurses twice as likely to get promoted as Black and Asian staff. The RCN say the landmark case “must drive change” in the sector.

NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, wrote to Ms Cox last week to say: “I sincerely apologise to you for what you were put through and I am grateful for your courage and resilience in speaking up about practice that was inappropriate and discriminatory.”

Ms Cox has previously said her case “sadly proves that institutional racism is still present in organisations, despite the efforts to make it more inclusive for people of all races and backgrounds”.

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RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: "This outcome must drive change – racial discrimination should never be acceptable or tolerated and must be rooted out.”

What happened?

Ms Cox was the only Black nurse in the employer’s North region in 2018, when she was appointed as the regional lead to the Chief Nursing Officer’s Black Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group.

At an employment tribunal in Manchester late last year, the tribunal heard evidence that Ms Cox, between 2019 and 2021, had faced racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation from her employer and her whistleblowing claims had not been upheld after she raised a grievance and appeal.

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The RCN, who supported the senior nurse through the tribunal, say Ms Cox has a long reputation of raising issues of social injustices within nursing platforms to amplify the unheard voices of staff and patients.

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Ms Cox received an apology from NHS England in March after winning her landmark race discrimination case on 15 February 2023.

What’s next?

NHS England (NHSE) chief executive, Amanda Pritchard stated in her letter that she is wholly committed to ensuring that NHSE “learns from and acts on the failings”, with some initial areas of action already identified.

In light of the apology and NHSE’s offer to engage, Ms Cox will be seeking a meeting with Amanda Pritchard to discuss the outcome of her case so it can act as a driver for change.

RCN director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: "While this case and what Michelle Cox has been subjected to is shocking, it is sadly not uncommon. Our minority ethnic colleagues are still facing race discrimination each and every day.

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"Minority ethnic staff are substantially less likely to be shortlisted for jobs, more likely to face disciplinary action, and more likely to report harassment, bullying and abuse from patients, than their White colleagues.

"There can be no space for racism in the NHS and, as Michelle Cox has said, I hope this landmark case encourages anyone facing similar behaviour in the workplace to have the courage to speak up."

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