Minority ethnic nurses and medical staff in the UK have written an open letter to the government asking the prime minister to call for a ceasefire in the Middle East, expressing their “deep concern” about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the region.
The letter, co-signed by 27 associations of nurses, midwives, doctors and other healthcare staff, asks prime minister Rishi Sunak to take action to help avoid further bloodshed from the conflict between the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“Aid workers are really struggling. Some of them are nurses, it really is catastrophic.
It reads: “We, the undersigned representatives of organisations comprising health and care professionals from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds, express our deep concern about the escalating conflict and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East.
“The healthcare and medical community unites against all forms of violence, Islamophobia, antisemitism and racism in any manifestation.
“We strongly denounce the tragic deaths of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians and implore the UK Government to apply its influence to promptly halt this cycle of violence.”
Mr Sunak was called to “exert pressure” on Israel to allow the free movement of essential humanitarian supplies and to condemn attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza, Palestine, where the conflict is currently centred following an attack by Hamas on Israel on 7 October.
He was also urged to “take the lead” on facilitating a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The letter was signed by, among others, the British Arab Nursing and Midwifery Association (BANMA), and was spearheaded by the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA).
Ofrah Muflahi, a registered nurse and co-founder of BANMA, told Nursing Times that, like many others in her position, she felt “helpless” watching news of the escalating conflict from afar – but hoped the prime minister would listen to the letter’s calls to action.
It aired concern for the “indiscriminate loss of life” and destruction of civilian infrastructure including hospitals, referring to the destruction of al-Ahli al-Arab hospital – the cause of which is claimed to either have been an Israeli rocket strike, according to Hamas authorities, or a misfired Hamas explosive, according to the IDF.
The full letter to the prime minister:
We, the undersigned representatives of organisations comprising health and care professionals from diverse ethnic minority backgrounds, express our deep concern about the escalating conflict and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East. The healthcare and medical community unites against all forms of violence, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and racism in any manifestation. We strongly denounce the tragic deaths of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians and implore the UK Government to apply its influence to promptly halt this cycle of violence.
Our concerns extend to the indiscriminate loss of life, the destruction of civilian infrastructure including medical facilities, schools and UN shelters, and the ongoing siege with cessation of water and food supplies, lack of electricity, and blockade of humanitarian corridors in Gaza. These actions contravene international humanitarian law. We are alarmed by the destruction and overwhelming strain on healthcare services and depletion of essential supplies. International medical relief organisations are also grappling with logistical challenges in complying with evacuation orders and evacuating sick and wounded patients and the dedicated staff looking after them.
Call to action:
- We urge the government to call for an immediate ceasefire and to exert pressure on Israel to open all humanitarian routes, allowing access to essential supplies of food, water, medical aid, electricity and fuel.
- We condemn assaults on healthcare facilities and staff and demand that they receive protections guaranteed by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
- We ask that the UK and international leaders advocate for parity of human life in this conflict.
- We implore the UK Government, as a significant global player, to take the lead in ensuring a sustainable and peaceful solution to end the recurrent cycles of violence and suffering.
- We are willing to provide our experience and support with humanitarian relief efforts.
Asian Professionals National Alliance (APNA), British Pakistani Psychiatrists Association (BPPA), Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons of Northern Europe (APPNE), British Somali Medical Association (BSMA), Deccan Alumni Association of Europe, Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons Scotland (APPS Scotland), Muslim Doctors Association & Allied Health Professionals CIC (MDA), Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons United Kingdom (APPS UK), Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association (MDDA), Maahir Medics group, Association of South Asian Midwives (ASAM), Muslim Doctors Cymru (MDC), Association of Zambian Nurses United Kingdom (AZNUK), NHS Muslim Women Network (NHSMWN). AskMyDoc, Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association UK (NNCAUK), Bangladeshi Doctors in UK, National Overseas Doctors Family Association (NODFA), British Arab Nursing and Midwifery Association (BANMA), Palmed UK, British Egyptian Medical Association (BEMA), The Seacole Group, British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA), Syrian British Medical Society (SBMS), Black Women in Health (BWIH), Sudan Doctors Union-UK (SDU-UK), British Pakistani Nurses & Midwives Association (BPNMA), United Iraqi Medical Association (UIMA)
A similar sentiment was, yesterday, aired by Howard Catton, the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
Mr Catton called for an “urgent agreement” to be made to safeguard medical, nursing and other healthcare personnel in Gaza, as well as to maintain safe routes in and out of the region.
The letter also comes as Mr Sunak arrived in Israel this morning for a two-day visit; earlier today, he expressed “solidarity with [Israeli] people” whilst calling for further humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Ms Muflahi said that, for British Arab healthcare workers, the fighting in Gaza had been a source of immense tension, upset and worry.
“They are devastated; we have Arab nurses and midwives who are from the areas that have been affected,” Ms Muflahi said.
“Some are not able to reach out to their loved ones and families [who are in the conflict area].
“They have come [to the UK] as international nurses, they are having to adjust culturally already, and this is an additional layer of pressure.
“Tensions are high, emotions are high, and people are worried and concerned.”
Ms Muflahi said the news about al-Ahli al-Arab hospital had hit home for all healthcare workers. But, she added, those who are from, or who have ancestry in, Palestine and the Arabic world had been impacted in particular.
“I have contacts [in Palestine] and I’ve lost contact with them, I have not heard from them, which is an additional concern,” Ms Muflahi continued.
“BANMA have done work with Medical Aid for Palestinians through our links, [and] aid workers are really struggling. Some of them are nurses, it really is catastrophic.
“What [is] significant is that [many] of the civilians who have been killed are children. And I think it is really affecting the psychological wellbeing of staff, even here in the UK.
“That’s across and outside of BANMA. It’s hitting hard for us but, actually, it’s affecting a lot of people, a lot of colleagues and nursing staff are devastated by what they’re seeing.”