Cultural divisions prevalent in health and aged care

A new report by the NSWNMA finds high levels of discrimination in health and aged care settings and a reluctance to report incidents.

 One in four nurses and midwives experience racial discrimination monthly, and one in ten report daily experiences of racial discrimination, a new report from the NSWNMA has found.

The Cultural Safety Gap report, based on a survey of more than 1200 members, also found that two in three nurses and midwives did not report incidents, while almost 90 per cent were unaware of any cultural support programs in their workplace.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said that while health workplaces valued culturally and linguistically diverse nurses and midwives for their ability to communicate with patients and clients, unfortunately the same nurses and midwives didn’t always receive the same respect from colleagues and managers.

“Historically, the focus has often been on workers being aware of patients’ or residents’ cultural backgrounds or sensitivities, while little has been done to encourage inclusiveness between work colleagues.”

Brett said members reported discrimination ranging from direct verbal attacks, to isolation and unfair scheduling of work assignments.

“Workplace discrimination is also not confined to one specific area of the health sector. These issues 
are prevalent across the public health system, private sector and in aged care.”

Accent or language discri-mination is also widespread.

“Thirty per cent of nurses and midwives confirmed they had been instructed not to speak languages other than English in the workplace,” Brett said.

This most commonly occurred in residential aged care.

Stereotyping common

The most common kind of racial discrimination members reported was stereotyping, with 54 per cent of respondents subjected to stereotyping based on their culture, language or appearance. Members also reported culturally offensive language (34.11 per cent), being isolated (32.27 per cent) and being passed over for promotion (19.40 per cent).

Nurses and midwives who identified as Aboriginal reported higher rates of racial discrimination and stereotyping than respondents from other groups. They were also more than twice as likely to be employed on a casual basis.

Less than a third of members surveyed said they reported incidents of discrimination, with other respondents saying they either did not feel comfortable reporting incidents or did not know how to. When they did report an incident, less than 15 per cent of the nurses and midwives received counselling or personal support.

Less than 25 per cent found the response they did receive fully helpful.

“For some, the option [to report an incident] was negated by the attitude of their manager, or the fact that their manager or immediate supervisor was the source of the discrimination,” the authors wrote.

All workplaces affected

Members who completed this survey came from 100 different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the most common being Indian, Filipino, African countries, Chinese and Nepalese.

Respondents worked in public and private hospitals; primary healthcare; residential aged care facilities; e-health and justice health, in NSW metro locations as well as rural and remote locations.

The report authors found that the workplace and work role made no significant difference to the experiences of culturally diverse nurses and midwives: respondents described positive and negative experiences at every level and type of workplace.

“The report clearly shows we need to close the cultural safety gap for nurses and midwives,” Brett Holmes said.

The report authors noted that: “Member responses showed a distinct lack of cultural competence that was not limited to any particular workplace or location in NSW.”

Brett said the NSWNMA will be using the survey results in its work with SafeWork NSW, Anti-Discrimination NSW and the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra to promote inclusiveness and build cultural safety in workplaces.