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JAN 29/2014

How nurses can take charge of tackling workplace discrimination

The day-to-day work and responsibilities of nursing staff are centred around helping people and rendering assistance, so it is only natural that the maintenance of a high standard of equality and diversity in the workplace is a key priority for all NHS employers.

In 21st century Britain, doctors and nurses working within the NHS tend to come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including locum staff from overseas. Moreover, UK trusts aim to provide welcoming and egalitarian operating structures to ensure people of all backgrounds, ages, genders, beliefs and orientations are able to fulfil their potential.

However, keeping up these high standards requires the participation and support of everyone involved in the provision of care, from the top managers right through to the frontline staff themselves - an issue that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is currently looking to emphasise.

Setting a high benchmark
The RCN has launched a new campaign called Is That Discrimination?, a three-year project that aims to raise awareness of workplace discrimination, while also enhancing the capacity of accredited representatives to identify and challenge bad conduct when they see it. It will also seek to work constructively with key employers to create more inclusive cultures.

At present, the NHS is renowned for the inclusive, equitable attitude that informs its treatment of patients and staff alike. The Equality Act 2010, which came into effect gradually over the last two years, introduced formal regulations making it illegal for NHS and social care service providers and professionals to discriminate, victimise or harass a person because of their age.

Among staff, standards are overseen and maintained by the NHS Equality and Diversity Council, with events such as the annual Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week - which takes place for the third time in May 2014 - helping to raise further awareness.

As such, LGBT charity Stonewall's 2014 list of the top 100 gay-friendly employers included seven NHS trusts and two ambulance service trusts, demonstrating the ongoing commitment to fair treatment.

How staff can get involved
In order to keep this standard up, the RCN is working with employers across London throughout 2014 to build a profile of how discrimination is dealt with in the workplace, as well as to share examples of best practice.

It is seeking to develop an online learning resource offering comprehensive advice about dealing with the impact of workplace discrimination relating to age, disability, gender identity, marriage/civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

As such, nursing staff are encouraged to share the experiences of workplace discrimination and how it was handled, which will be developed into anonymised case studies to demonstrate the issues that can arise and the ways in which they can be tackled.

By contributing their insights, nurses can help to improve the quality of support and advice that other RCN members receive when they encounter discrimination, while also equipping other nursing professionals with a better understanding of their employment rights.

In doing so, they can ensure they have made a significant and positive contribution to making the NHS a friendly, diverse and inclusive place to work.

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