Heroes borne of neglect.
The work of Filipino nurses and care workers in the UK has been heavily highlighted in the media recently. Underneath the plaudits there lies a tougher story of neglected public servants, of prejudice, of a truth the UK does not want to hear.
After many years struggling to achieve her dream Viane Candava arrived in the UK from the Philippines in 2018. She had served the NHS for over a year before being thrown into the heart of the worst health crisis in a century. This is her story told as she talks to Francis Fernando who has been here for many decades, and now finds himself challenging us on mainstream media to face the truths about why BAME health workers have been disproportionately suffering during this crisis. Both Viane and Francis are speaking out knowing there is pressure to prevent them from doing so. But they do so because this is an ongoing fight to prevent more of the deaths that shame this country.
Is being a Nurse worth it all? I come across this thought often. Especially nowadays. Yet every day I get up, get dressed and work diligently.
On one of my rest days, I was offered a little extra work to do -- write an article. I was hesitant at first because I was never a writer. But that’s a different story to tell! So yeah, I accepted the offer and swallowed all the nerves. I am very glad I did because I came across a respected colleague, Mr. Francis Fernando, who is at the front of the campaign as to why BAME front line workers, and especially Filipinos, have been so badly hit by the pandemic in the UK.
Mr. Fernando has had quite a journey in his nursing career. He has always placed a standard of excellence in whatever he does. Inspired by his grandparents. One of the first Filipino Nurses in Salisbury, he started his career as an adaptation nurse, was promoted several times while also finishing a Masteral degree in 2013. To adapt in his new setting here in the UK, he self-educated about the culture and essentials here in the UK but was given good support from his hospital and by the Filipino community in Salisbury. With his passion and dedication, he is now the Matron in General Surgery at Croydon NHS Healthcare. He has just started his Doctorate in health and Social Care. Not only an amazing nurse but an amazing father of three, too.
Although it was not all sunshine and roses for him, he was kept inspired by his family, and always dreamt of giving them the best that life could offer. He was persistent in his craft. All his accomplishments, alongside all the struggles, have helped him hone himself as a nurse and as a leader.
In recent weeks he has found himself in the role of spokesperson, ambassador and counsellor as he became aware of his community facing unprecedented pressure during this crisis. An incredible percentage of the deaths among the NHS workers are BAME, and one in 5 are Filipino health workers. Francis chose to speak out, at first on social media, then to the Nurse’s union, and now on media platforms such as Newsnight. The full extent of the issue, as we see Filipino colleagues, even those with critical conditions such as cancer, bullied into work has meant that he has had to balance personal intervention with a national campaign. But, what does Francis think has gone so badly wrong?
“I feel that many mistakes have been made which contributed to the high number of deaths. There is a lack of and inadequate PPEs in all areas except ITU (Intensive units)-that’s why we don’t have any staff deaths in ITU.Risk and impact assessments were not carried out as they should have been which resulted in continuously exposing high risks staff to CoVid-19. But more than this lack of proper general care, Filipinos and other BAME staff are treated unfairly compared to their white colleagues. They are more assigned to CoVid-19 without adequate protections, and we have a culture of not saying no due to fear of reprimandand losing your work permit.Shielding Policy is not implemented to benefit our comrades and other BAME staff.80% of all the Filipinos who died should have been shielded due to being high risks because of their comorbidities and other long-term conditions. Filipino culture is one of doing extra work or overtime, but the managers should have not allowed this to happen. If you are stressed and exhausted, your immune system is low and so more prone to catching CoVid-19 and it is more likely to be fatal.”.
This is a heartbreaking truth that, despite all the good intentions of working hard as a healthcare worker, some have ended up losing their lives. Actions are needed to put an end to this ugly truth. As diligent as he is, he is now encouraging every member of the BAME, especially the Filipino Nurses to be empowered. He is tirelessly reaching out to various associations and national leaders to find a better solution. Hallelujah! This non-stop campaigning for their colleagues has led to more of the safeguarding that should have always been in place. An investigation into the high level of BAME deaths is underway.
Mr. Fernando and his team are continuously knocking on the doors of several more associations in order to prevent further deaths and inequality. Just like everyone else, this pandemic has been emotionally and physically draining for him, but he knows how to keep himself sane and healthy. I can’t help but ask him how he feels when people say, “Nurses are modern day heroes”. It amazes me still that he does not think of himself as one. He said that he would rather be called a compassionate leader and caring nurse. I cannot agree more, as I also believe that all of us has our own heroic deeds, and we have to acknowledge each and everyone’s contribution to society.
So, my thoughts and dilemmas about being a nurse were eased by a very short yet inspirational chat with this colleague of mine. I looked back to the day why I took nursing. It is because, I want to be able to touch people’s lives if not remembered. I always carry this to my heart whenever I lose my control. I asked Mr. Fernando for a message to our future colleagues, not just to inspire others as I needed to be inspired, too. He said, “My message to everyone who may want to consider nursing as a profession is simply this,-you have to do some soul searching and reflection to ensure that nursing is for you. Being a nurse is not easy. We are there during our patients’ most vulnerable times. We are there when they get better and when they go home to see their families again. We are partners in our patients’ care. We are also there in their last few hours before they die. It’s a passion and vocation and not for everyone. You must be compassionate, courageous, committed and caring. You must have a heart of goldand a zest for continuous learning. In times of crisis like we have now, you must be resilientand patient. You must have therigor to continue in providing high quality and evidence-basedcare. It’s a rewarding but a challenging career.”
His message left me very emotional. Nursing is not just merely giving medication, attending to patients and carrying out doctor’s orders.I can see that each healthcare worker is now being valued but I hope this continues and later on they will be given the right credit for their hard work. In the future. I hope we realise how important a strong healthcare system and a good government is to a country. I hope that people will be wiser in choosing their leaders as it is essential that we give our trust to those who value not just the economic stability but each person's life. As I know that every single day that I go to work, I am risking my life, It is truly more of a “calling”. And so, going back to my question, “Is being a nurse worth it all?”. Here is what my answer is. It was, it is, and it will always be worth it.
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