A black South African nurse working in the United Kingdom (UK) was advised by her National Health Service (NHS) manager to bleach her skin white so that patients would be friendly to her.
Ms. Kweyama, who was employed as an agency nurse at an immigrant removal center in Heathrow, was also the victim of racial abuse by a group of male inmates who had previously called her a monkey.
NHS executives handling the case have come under fire from an employment court, which called it “an absolute abdication of the positive obligation on management.”
After her contract expired, Ms. Kweyama successfully sued her employer, the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, for racial harassment and victimization. During the tribunal, it was revealed that Ms. Kweyama regularly worked shifts as an agency nurse at the immigration removal center between November 2017 and February 2019.
Around 600 male detainees from various nations are housed in the facility as they await deportation from the UK. The panel was informed that they receive medical care from the trust employees before being deported.
Ms. Kweyama was subjected to racial harassment by a group of detainees in January 2019 while they were waiting for their medication to be provided. The nurse was racially abused after being instructed to bring their medications one at a time and then close the door.
“The detainees started calling me monkey and started making monkey and dog noises, asking to come in at the same time,” Ms. Kweyama testified to the tribunal.
The tribunal was informed that the nurse then brought up an electronic incident report on the abuse. The panel was told that NHS administrators did not inform her of the status of her complaint or the efforts taken to reduce the likelihood that a similar incident would occur in the future.
Ms. Kweyama claims that when she brought up the situation with her senior nurse, she was informed: “You need to acquire a pool of bleach to bleach your skin so that you come back tomorrow white and the patient will be nice to you.”
The same senior nurse was recorded stating to a different employee later that day: “I do not care, let her go and bleach her skin. I am sick and tired of people coming to work and saying they are not well.”
A couple of weeks later, Ms. Kweyama emailed her agency, Athona, to say that she was no longer able to work at the Heathrow center because of the racial abuse and that she needed time to rehabilitate psychologically and emotionally.
An NHS manager informed her that her employment was being terminated in the same month because “certain terms used in her statement were disturbing,” prompting the manager to express concern for the claimant’s mental health.
Ms. Kweyama’s argument is that she suffered racist abuse and the NHS Trust did nothing to support her, and as a result, she lost her employment.
The tribunal found that she had in fact been the victim of racial harassment and victimization for being told to bleach her skin by her employer. The tribunal also ruled that the termination of her employment was unfair. The final hearing in the case will take place at a later date.