Rosie Purves: Staff nurse who fought racism in the NHS

For seven years the black staff nurse Rosie Purves was abused by a white mother who did not want a black nurse looking after her child, who had cystic fibrosis.

On one occasion, when Purse was moving the child from its bed, the mother confronted her, "shouting and swearing that I had no right to be there, that black people shouldn't be in hospital." Feeling they should cater for the mother's wishes, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Hospitals Trust, instead of challenging the mother's racist behaviour, moved the child to another ward. The mother continued to leave racist messages and subjected Purves to abuse.

Feeling isolated, Purves became depressed and was off sick for six months. Eventually she decided she had to take a stand. Her complaint was not against the mother, but against the Trust. She felt it should have supported her, that the Trust did not take racism and racial discrimination seriously. The employment tribunal agreed and awarded her £20,000.

Two years before the case, in 2004, she had been given a Local Hero Award through the local paper, the Daily Echo, nominated by parents of the children she nursed. She also won a Best Nurse of the Year award at the hospital. Five hundred colleagues, friends and former and their families attended the funeral mass at the church of St Vincent de Paul, Southampton. "She was a valued and long-serving member of staff who was highly thought of among her colleagues and members of the community," said Judy Gillow, director of nursing at Southampton Hospitals NHS Trust. Her body was flown back to be buried in her native Trinidad.

Purves came to Britain in the 1960s, took her general nurse training at Northampton, then sick children's nursing at Southampton Children's Hospital. For over 40 years she served as a staff nurse in the children's medical ward at Southampton General Hospital until she had a stroke last November and developed ovarian cancer.

"She fought for the children in care," ward sister Penny Eades said. "She brought a child who was on a portable ventilator to London and took her up on the London Eye. She never said, 'Can't do'. She was a hands-on practical nurse." As well as nursing children at Southampton General Hospital, Purves helped at the Cedars School for children with physical and mental disabilities.

Becoming a shop steward for the Transport and General Workers Union (now Unite), Purves had particular concern for Filipino nurses who came to this country on fixed contracts. She felt they were unfairly pressurised.

Passionate about her West Indian heritage, Purves cooked Caribbean meals at international evenings organised in people's houses and the church hall – and demonstrated limbo dancing. A devout Roman Catholic, she was liturgically and socially active in her local church. She involved young people in the liturgy and, with her hobby of embroidering, embroidered clergy vestments. She also befriended people in church, making them welcome, especially those of different nationalities. She and her husband Alan had one child, adopted another and cared for a third.

Rosie Diaz, staff nurse and campaigner against racism: born Trinidad 8 March 1945: shop steward, Transport and General Workers Union; married Alan Purves (one child, one adopted child); died Southampton 28 May 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn