A black nurse who fought against racism in the NHS after being told she could not care for a white child following a complaint by the child’s mother has lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
Sixty-four year-old Rosie Purves worked at Southampton General Hospital for over 30 years and was awarded a Daily Echo-backed Local Hero award in 2002, after families called for her dedication and care of sick children to be recognised.
It was in 2004 when her case against health bosses at Southampton University Hospitals came to light in the media.
Rosie took the health bosses to a tribunal after she was prevented from looking after a white child with cystic fibrosis following a complaint by the child’s mother who said that did not want a black person looking after her child.
On one occasion when Rosie was moving the child from her bed into a cubicle the child’s mother confronted her. Rosie said, “She was shouting and swearing that I had no right to be there, that she did not want me to look after her child and that black people shouldn’t be in the hospital”. (Cheston: London Evening Standard: 17 May, 2004)
The mother left Rosie racist messages and subjected her to racial abuse for over seven years but instead of challenging the mother’s racist behaviour hospital bosses moved Rosie to different wards away from the child.
Rosie won her case and was awarded £20,000. She said, “I feel as if the trust really does not take the issues of racism and racial harassment seriously.” She added, “I have always been in love with my job, totally committed and really happy and proud of everything I have done.”
Sadly, Rosie lost her battle to ovarian cancer today. A service in her memory will be held at 7pm tonight at St Vincent De Paul Church, Aldermoor Close, Southampton and her family plans to fly her body home to Trinidad where she was born.
Courageous and dedicated health staff like Rosie Purves have been the backbone of Britain’s NHS for years and without them the general health of the country would be much worse. It is an outrage that the media in this country often run degrading stories of foreign nurses who have the decency to look after the same racists who insult them in hospitals and retirement homes. Without nurses like Rosie Purves, and the thousands of foreign doctors and nurses who provide vital care for people in Britain there would not be a health care system as we know it today.
Rosie’s fight against racism in the NHS must continue
Rosie was a true champion of racial justice and equality and her fight against racism in the NHS must continue. Her death brings back memories of another black NHS hero who has died, Milton Hanson, who was sacked from his job for exposing the racist degrading practices on black people at a sexual health clinic in South London in 2003 after 35 years of service.
Hanson could no longer stand by and witness the racial and physical abuse of black patients at the Caldecot sexual health clinic where he worked. After his pleas to NHS bosses were overlooked and ignored an extremely concerned Hanson turned to community radio station Power Jam, where he spoke about what he witnessed to radio presenter, Kwaku Bonsu.
Hanson said, “On several occasions a particular [European] nurse boasted to myself and other nurses that she would push the urethral probe deeper than necessary up the urethra of black males to cause them physical pain.” (Ligali: 9 November: 2006)
He added, “Black patients were routinely called derogatory names such as ‘crows’, ‘yardie criminals’, ‘monkeys’, and ‘breeders’, among many other offensive and hurtful names. Black women were routinely left exposed on examination chairs, unattended for long periods without covering. Staff would brag that this was to punish them for asking difficult questions about the waiting time.”
Hanson’s accounts were supported by other staff who recalled racially derogatory comments being made towards black patients openly by European staff.
Hanson was fired by the King’s College NHS Trust for whistle-blowing in 2003 and after facing a disciplinary hearing by the Nursing and Midwifery Council he was struck off the nursing register permanently. He would never be allowed to work in the NHS ever again. This devastating blow to Hanson’s thirty-five year career was carried out by top black NHS executive Michael Parker.
The fact that Hanson could not work in the profession he loved broke him. In 2005 he returned to Jamaica to look after his mother and continued to expose the racism he had witnessed on Irie Fm where he broke down in tears. The local community was so moved and outraged that they picketed the British High Commission on his behalf.
On the same day however, Hanson suffered from a stroke at his home in Priestman’s River in Portland and was taken to the Port Antonio Hospital. He died on November 5 2005, age 57.
Hanson and Rosie are the black heroes of the NHS for daring to stand up to the racism they experienced. While Rosie was successful, Hanson’s disturbing case was perhaps too much for the bosses of the NHS to admit to. In the end his concern for the black community in Britain cost him his life.
What goes on unreported in the NHS today regarding racism we may never know. Too many black and minority ethnic nurses and doctors will be well aware that exposing racism can cost them their career. Despite this, we need campaigning individuals like Rosie and Hanson and like Hanson’s local community in Jamaica we need to picket and protest to show our support when individuals are brave enough to come forward.
For further research: