Mental health support for BAME healthcare workers

Mental health support for healthcare workers from minoritised racial backgrounds

Media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic has repeatedly confirmed the disproportionate representation in both exposure to and death from Covid-19 among Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.

Woman being consoled
"The ultimate long-term goal of my project is to create a trauma-informed system." Dr Ruth Oshikanlu, Fellow

In response to these findings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England's Black and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group (CNO BME SAG) has held virtual listening events to address the concerns of healthcare staff from minority ethnic groups. As a member of the CNO BME SAG, I was disheartened to hear colleagues - including health visitors, nurses and midwives - relate their negative experiences of working in the front line during the pandemic. Many reported being deeply impacted by not having personal protective equipment, contracting Covid-19, and deaths of colleagues from the disease. Some described being traumatised by unsafe working conditions caused by lack of protective equipment.

In an effort to respond to the crisis that was emerging, many employers and trade unions have offered counselling and other forms of psychological services. However, many Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff reported that the services did not meet their needs. Many staff recounted turning to faith-based leaders for spiritual support. The services received from faith-based leaders more closely met their needs, but still there was a report that something was missing: psychological support.

Having recently returned from my Churchill Fellowship in the USA, where I researched approaches to trauma informed care across several states, I elicited the support of a Clinical Psychotherapist I had met in California. My idea was to develop a one-day awareness training programme and a train-the-trainer programme which employed the trauma informed knowledge which I have gained, as well as the primary and secondary impact of trauma on service providers which I had witnessed. Having contracted the virus myself, I had both learned and lived experiences which informed the work of providing trauma informed support.

Group of women standing at a conference in Philadelphia
Ruth (second left) with the Team at the Health Federation in Philadelphia which she visited as part of her Fellowship Download 'Ruth Oshikanlu_Blog2.jpg'

To ensure the programme was fit for purpose, I had several listening events with faith and community leaders. They reported the challenges of providing the psychological support and requested training and guidance to meet the needs of community members. The aim of the programme is to provide frontline BAME health and social care staff with culturally and spiritually sensitive, psychological support, utilising a trauma-informed system.

This should enable frontline health and social care staff to receive the psychological support they require, and foster healing from the direct and indirect impact of trauma that is associated with their caring roles during the pandemic.

In June, I received a Covid-19 Action Fund grant from the Churchill Fellowship to support this work. I used the funds to create a one-day awareness programme and develop a train-the-trainers programme. This programme aims to train frontline ‘champions’ such as health and social care professionals, community and faith leaders, who will cascade the nurse-led trauma resilience informed healing programme to those they support spiritually or in their communities. The programmes will be evaluated through learn-and-change sessions that I will facilitate to encourage reflection and the evolution of the programme to ensure it continues to meet the needs of participants. Once piloted locally, the vision is to roll the programme to the whole of London and subsequently extend it nationally.

The ultimate long-term goal of my project is to create a trauma-informed system that fosters wellness and resilience for all health and social care workers, as well as service recipients. The development of trauma-informed and responsive organisations will improve the retention of nurses and other health and social care staff, increase job satisfaction, reduce turnover of staff and improve patient and service-user experience. Trauma-informed systems of care ultimately result in reducing absence from work due to sickness, stress, burnout, and by preventing and managing primary and vicarious trauma. Trauma-informed systems of care also facilitate self-care and efficiency savings, and have the potential to make health and social care professions more attractive to new entrants.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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