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Decolonising our health and social care curriculum for a more inclusive future workforce


Decolonising our health and social care curriculum for a more inclusive future workforce

Akudo Amadiegwu explains why changes are needed to be made to the health and social care curriculum to prepare future workforces for increasingly diverse patient groups.

An article this week in the Nursing Times reported on a chief executive of an NHS Trust who recently introduced measures in the trust following the death of 46-year-old Tyrone Airey who suffered from sickle cell disorder. These include better training for nursing students and listening to the community as the investigation into his death ruled that nursing staff had “insufficient training” in sickle cell pain management.

In a blog post I co-authored with Professor Winifred Eboh from the University of Essex, we highlighted the case of  21-year-old man Evan Nathan Smith who had sickle cell disorder but died in hospital because he was not given oxygen therapy, due to the lack of understanding of his condition.

In both cases, lack of awareness of the condition which affects people of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean heritages was highlighted as a contributory factor to their untimely deaths.

It is becoming increasingly imperative that we prepare the next health and social care workforce for increasingly diverse patient and service user groups. Our teaching and good clinical practice should consider issues relating to diversity (Bhugra & Gupta 2010). Our service provision should carefully consider the uniqueness of the people we support. The coroner in Evans’ case ruled that he would not have died if the staff recognised the symptoms and provided timely treatment. Our curricular therefore must be inclusive and teach, for instance, how a person of colour who needs oxygen therapy presents as that can be lifesaving.

The NHS trust also held listening events as they realised that they were not listening to members of the community. Our workforce force and student body comprise of members of these communities, what with social work and nursing degrees programmes having the most diverse applicants according to UCAS. It is therefore imperative to incorporate their knowledge and ‘knowledges’ into the curriculum.

I was part of the New Leaders in Early Years MA project here at Canterbury, and I have fond memories of engaging in ‘sustained shared thinking’ with children and I drew from that pedagogical approach in a book chapter* I wrote on ways and approaches to decolonise the curriculum. This involves co-production of knowledge, or dare I say, ‘knowledges’ between the lecturer and student, where both parties contribute to the learning experience, in an intellectual way to ‘solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities and extend a narrative’ (Sylva 2004)

My understanding of decolonising the curriculum is not a complete erasure of existing knowledge, rather it presents an opportunity to bring together a fusion of ideas tolearn about and uphold the rights of a person, a people, to create a new body of knowledge about the rapidly changing world around us. Our curriculum must be informed by ‘wider social, political, economic, cultural and environmental ideas’ (Cook 2020). Our professions have international appeal and our students can practice internationally with the qualifications gained from this university. It would be a great disservice if we do not prepare our students to support diverse patient and service user groups in the UK and practice internationally.

* Bald, C and Amadiegwu, A (2023) ‘Decolonisation and critical social work in Ioakimidis, V., and Wyllie, A. (2023) Social Work’s Histories of Complicity and Resistance. Brighton. Policy Press.

Akudo Amadiegwu is a Lecturer in Social Work in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.

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