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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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HomeCulture WarDiversity box-ticking helps neither nurse nor patient

Diversity box-ticking helps neither nurse nor patient

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OVER recent years there has been a notable change in the nursing training delivered in universities. Forget the old ambition of equality of opportunity, today’s drive is for ‘equity’. Merit and ability are all but irrelevant, overtaken by the characteristics which diversity, equity and inclusion require. 

This change has taken place to ensure universities meet the quota requirements set by the Equality Act 2010. What it means is that holders of nine protected characteristics including race, disability and gender reassignment are enrolled with suitability for the role taking a back seat, often over academic success and a rounded caring character, which is an essential requirement of the nursing profession. While at first sight this might seem a noble aim, the consequences are disastrous for standards of care.

Going down this path almost undoubtedly will result in patient safety being compromised. For example, a nursing student at university with a diagnosis of a disability or a specific learning disability will be given the opportunity to have 25 per cent extra time during exams, with ten-minute rest breaks for every 40 minutes’ work, and additional assistance provided by a PA throughout the duration of the course.

Such students are provided with a SARA (Service Availability and Readiness Assessment) form to ensure that this additional assistance is in place. This process is all well and good in ensuring that students who are unable to rise to the challenge of academic work can still meet the pass mark. However, it does not address the problem these student nurses face when working on placement in healthcare. Although during the course they may have longer breaks, less travel time, their PA at the end of the phone and extra visits from their academic assessor, they are overall alone on placement and potentially unable to meet the demands placed upon them.

During a class discussion, a student nurse with a learning disability declared: ‘I did not have my proficiencies signed off during placement because the staff at the hospital are ableist and do not accommodate my needs.’ We have to ask ourselves, do the hard-pressed nursing staff she was placed with have time to support her needs and those of the patients on their ward? It is also important to note that this particular student has failed all academic assessment so far, despite the extra help the SARA form provides, yet she is given extra tuition and multiple second chances.

It is also worth noting that a work placement could be acting illegally if it refuses to accept a student with a disability. This prompts the question that when these students qualify thanks to the extra help they received, which is afforded only to them and nobody else, who will oversee their work within the hospital? Or will it take a catastrophic event for the shortcomings which have been masked to be highlighted?

Patient safety is paramount within healthcare, so should diversity, equity and inclusion come before this? And can the state afford this luxury, given that many students will fail before graduation, draining precious resources which could have been diverted elsewhere? 

While some aspects of neurodiverse characteristics are prized in a number of industries, are we not deluding ourselves that these characteristics are suitable in nursing? Depending on the learning disability and its severity, these very students who have chosen a path in nursing may possess the following characteristics: lack of empathy, impulsivity, extreme emotions, anxiety in stressful situations, difficulty concentrating, and communication difficulties. These characteristics go against everything required to become a successful and professional nurse, putting positive patient outcomes and patient safety at risk. Section 2.6 of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code states that a nurse must be able to recognise when people are anxious or in distress and respond compassionately and politely. Can we confidently say that people with learning disabilities, who commonly possess the traits stated above, have the ability to ensure they are prioritising people, practising effectively and preserving safety?

Can we not put realism above wokism in today’s society? It seems not. A number of nursing students I have encountered are from an ethnic minority where English is not their first language. Although these students are not given extra support in the same way that those with a SARA form are, they were selected by the university not on merit but purely for the purpose of box-ticking. While we commonly see this in all university subjects across the UK, why does the communication aspect of nursing have to be sacrificed in the name of equity? Whilst these students might be able to succeed in the academic aspect of nursing, they have language limitations which can be damaging in patient care, with important meanings lost in translation, resulting in unsafe and ineffective practice.

Section 7.5 of the NMC Code states that a nurse must be able to communicate clearly and effectively in English, yet applicants whose English language skills are below par are selected over a person who possesses these skills. This is yet another group of individuals who have been set up to fail by the guidelines the government have set to increase diversity quotas. They are a further example of a group selected over more suitable candidates purely because of their race and ethnicity. Comparisons can be drawn to the entry requirements for the RAF, where women and ethnic minorities took precedence over white males, in an impossible recruitment drive. It has since been admitted that the process was naïve.

This extra burden set by the Equality Act to ensure equity is enforced is unrealistic in the healthcare crisis we are facing. Pushing unsuitable candidates through a university process is unfair on them, future colleagues and patients. The NHS needs competent, caring and critically thinking staff who are able to meet the pressures and challenges that the job will provide. There are no resources available to accommodate staff who do not meet patient and future colleagues’ expectations within the NHS, to achieve these high-minded ideals.

Whilst I recognise that all universities across the UK work in a similar fashion, I do not believe it is safe and effective to apply these rules within the nursing profession. Although there is nothing wrong with any of the nine protected characteristics being picked for a nursing role, I do not believe it is fair for these people to be picked over a candidate who has greater merit to obtain a place on the course. They are often a small percentage of the population yet I have noticed they are overly represented in my cohort. Common sense has been taken out of the equation just so that universities and the NHS can say in confidence that they are complying with the government’s legislation that equity is promoted and not just equality. This is a world where strength and success are overtaken by weakness and wokism. Replacing one inequality with another does not benefit any of the patients who bear the brunt of this damaging ideology. 

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