Nursing watchdog accused of discrimination for letting racism complaints ‘go unchecked’


Nurses accused of tying a Sikh patient’s beard with plastic gloves, leaving him in his own urine and offering him food he couldn’t eat for religious reasons were allowed to carry on working despite the man complaining about discrimination in a note on his deathbed, The Independent can reveal.

The shocking claims emerged in a dossier leaked to The Independent from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the UK’s nursing regulator, which outlines multiple counts of alleged racism against nursing staff and patients.

A senior NMC whistleblower has now urged the regulator to address an alleged racial bias in how it treats conduct cases against Black and ethnic minority nurses and patients amid claims of “alarming” racism within the NMC, which was first raised in 2008.

The whistleblower claims the organisation has failed to address “institutional racism” in its ranks for 15 years, warning this has allowed NMC staff “to go unchecked” when “applying guidance inconsistently based on their own discriminatory views”.

It comes afterThe Independent revealed a shocking array of claims against the NMC, including a “culture of fear” within the organisation, meaning staff are too afraid to raise concerns to the watchdog. The regulator has launched an investigation over the revelations.

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In the latest series of revelations fromThe Independent, we reveal:

  • A Black nurse was forced to undergo a fitness-to-practice hearing over her response to a patient who was racially abusive. The nurse eventually took voluntary removal from the register

  • A white nurse was cleared by the NMC despite being found to have racially abused members of the public — a ruling only overturned in the High Court

  • NMC staff claim they’re forced to “act like an English rose” to fit in, while Black and ethnic minotiry staff fear being exposed if they speak up about racism

  • Staff believe the “cultural capital” of the NMC is “white, middle-class women and a lack of diversity with regard to class” — with any approach to addressing racism described as a “token gesture”

In the case of the Sikh patient,the case was initially closed by the NMC’s screening team. According to a source, the NMC staff members responsible for deciding whether to pursue an investigation failed to properly consider responses to the note, left by the patient and discovered by his family after his death. The note, written in Punjabi, claimed nurses had laughed at him, kept him hungry by only offering food which they knew he couldn’t eat and not responded to his call bell, causing him to wet himself and fall in his own urine.

The Independent understands the patient’s family found his turban on the floor, out of his reach, and his beard tied up with rubber gloves.

The NMC confirmed the case is being re-assessed. The nurses are currently working without restriction.

Meanwhile, an independent review of the organisation’s investigations department, as well as summaries from the NMC’s Black and Minority Ethnic staff network meetings in 2023, both obtained by The Independent, reveal multiple allegations of racism within the regulator.

The documents reveal how Black and ethnic minority staff fear they will be exposed if they speak up about racism. Concerns were also raised that Black and Asian people are not being promoted equally, driving a lack of equality in pay between staff. The documents also claim the organisation’s approach to diversity is “ticking boxes”.

According to the NMC’s 2022 workforce and race equality survey, published by the regulator on Friday, just 30 per cent of staff agreed there are “equal opportunities for career progression” within the NMC compared to 43 per cent of white staff. This was worse than the previous year when 38 per cent of Black and ethnic minority staff said yes to this question.

The organisation also has no BME staff who are at the highest pay grade. 89 per cent of the board are white.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said in response to The Independent:I’m so sorry that anyone has personally suffered or observed racism at the NMC. I want the NMC to be an anti-racist organisation and it’s clear we’ve got a long way to go to achieve that.

I absolutely accept that experiences of some of my colleagues from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds have not been good enough and that when they’ve raised concerns, these have not always been acted on or acted on quickly enough.  There’s so much more we must do to embed the safe, inclusive and supportive culture we all want to see.  People feel let down by the slow progress we’ve made and I’m determined that we must go further and faster to make our working environment and experiences for colleagues the best they can be.”

Ms Sutcliff said it is the NMC’s responsibility to keep people safe and that it has made improvements to its fitness to practice guidance which she hopes will make staff more consistent in how seriously allegations of discrimination are treated.

“I know we don’t get it right every time and we must learn when we make mistakes. It’s imperative we now investigate all of the concerns raised with us and we are in the process of appointing external, independent experts to lead those investigations with care, with rigour and with full transparency,” she added.

In a 2008 parliament debate, MP Ben Bradshaw, who was minister of state for health at the time, said an independent investigator had been charged with looking at allegations of “institutional racism” within the NMC.

Professor Roger Kline, an independent NHS adviser who wrote the NHS’ first major paper on institutional racism called ‘Snowy White Peaks’, told The Independent: “There has been numerous reports and research on sexual and racial harassment in the NHS and they are major issues employers are not effectively tackling. Such harassment has a serious detrimental impact on female Black and Minority Ethnic staff.

NMC chief Andrea Sutcliffe to launch independent review of whistblower concerns
NMC chief Andrea Sutcliffe to launch independent review of whistblower concerns

“The least we expect professional regulators to do is to tackle such incidents at speed and in ways that give staff confidence to report such treatment in the knowledge there will be decisive action to tackle it. Unless nurses and midwives have confidence that the NMC are doing just that it sends completely the wrong message to registrants – and to those engaged in harassment or managers who are supposed to stop it.”

Neomi Bennett, chief executive and founder of Equality for Black nurses, supports nurses who have gone through fitness to practice hearings as part of the charity’s work.

Responding to The Independent’s reports, Ms Bennett said: “It is alarming to see how prevalent racism is within the NMC. The double standards are undeniable, and the NMC’s treatment of Black nurses violates the principles of equality and fairness that professional nurses are supposed to uphold.

“The NMC needs to take responsibility and accountability and take action to address these profoundly concerning issues from within their organisation.”