Impact of Covid-19 on Black staff in the NHS

Branch News Equalities UNISON News

The disproportionate impact of Covid-19, and the response to it, is a matter of concern for the whole union.

We urgently await the analysis and report from the Public Health England Ethnicity Review which is looking at the impact in the general population (due end May).

It is hoped that learning from the Review will help and support efforts to minimise the risk of infection to everyone in our communities and in the NHS workforce.

UNISON will continue to press for this Review to be made available to the public and we will share the outcomes through our communication channels.

In the meanwhile, NHS England has set up a work programme aimed at supporting Black staff in the NHS with five areas: protection of Black staff; engagement with staff; representation in decision-making;
rehabilitation and recovery for Black staff; communications and media.

On protection for Black staff, NHS Employers has issued guidance to NHS managers for England. This advises them to have conversations with Black staff and to undertake additional risk assessments to inform how Black staff and other groups at higher risk of infection can be protected.

The Welsh Government, Employers and unions have issued a joint statement committing employers to adopting a precautionary approach including conducting risk assessments for Black staff

It is important that employers do not wait until the Ethnicity Review is completed before undertaking this work.

What UNISON would like to see happen in workplaces:

  • Communications to all staff that explain the issue and the steps the organisation is taking. It should be emphasised that the emerging evidence about factors that influence Covid-19 impact on Black staff will assist the organisation to help and support all staff. Communications should include sharing emerging findings from the Ethnicity Review research in a format accessible to staff.
  • An urgent review of any staff networks available to Black staff in the organisation. This should include candid conversations about how accessible, representative and trusted the network is by staff – including those working for contractors, banks and agencies – and what could be done to better support and strengthen what is available. In some Trusts, the networks are jointly chaired by a union rep and an employer rep. This can work well.
  • Discussion with UNISON about how Black members and reps could be engaged in a collective approach to the risks and the ways these could be mitigated – in addition to the individual risk assessments.
  • Details shared with the union of how the additional individual risk assessments will be managed and confirmation that staff not specifically invited to have an assessment can access one on request.
  • Discussion of training and support available for line managers to ensure they conduct  conversations with their Black staff supportively and sensitively and are able to build trust. Noting that further guidance and tools on this will be provided by NHSE/I shortly.
  • No knee-jerk reactions around redeployment without careful and detailed discussion with individual staff supported where necessary by their union reps.
  • Urgent review of how staff with underlying health conditions can be deployed safely including:
    • provision of the highest appropriate level of PPE for the setting and regular fit testing of masks and other equipment
    • convenient access to testing and re-testing where staff want this
    • consideration of impacts of working pattern (including long shifts/night shifts, additional shifts or multiple jobs) on fatigue levels
    • the need for regular breaks, food and water while on shift.
  • Where after discussion and agreement, staff are temporarily redeployed or reassigned assurances should be given that they will suffer no detriment in terms of earnings, status and other terms and conditions.
  • Review of channels available for Black staff to raise concerns and how UNISON can support and facilitate this.
  • Review of the health and well-being support and employee assistance available and action to tailor it to meet the needs of Black staff.
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