By Grahame Anderson

The BAME review into disproportionate numbers of deaths from COVID-19 is quickly gathering momentum. NHS England has already recommended in a letter, health trusts assess black, Asian and ethnic minority workers as “at potentially greater risk” from coronavirus.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens advised: “On a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk assess staff at a potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.”

Scientific Hypothesis

It may be early but some scientists are beginning to highlight possible causes for the high rate of BAME deaths to coronavirus.

These include underlying health conditions such as type two diabetes, respiratory issues and heart conditions.

It’s clear those from BAME backgrounds are more likely to work in essential roles close up to the public, such as bus and taxi driving, working in health and social care and cleaning.
As we highlighted last week BAME families are more likely to live in overcrowded, multi-generational homes than their white counterparts.

Asian Sunday has also learned black and minority ethnic communities are more likely to have language and interpreting needs, limiting their access to information and treatment.

Analysing Data

Professor Mahendra G Patel, PhD FRPharmS FHEA, is a Senior Academic Pharmacist and Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Bradford, speaking as an active British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin or BAPIO. He told us: “There’s a lot of data we’ll need to look at both during the crisis and when things eventually settle down. In terms of the BAME community, we also need to look at the whole sector of the group – not just in health.

“For example, of those who have tragically lost their lives, which profession did they work in? Were they on the NHS front line? Where they adequately protected? Did they come from an extended family living close together? How many were from the poorer communities? Did some have underlying health issues? There are so many areas involved here, we need to get things right.

“This terrible disease is indiscriminate, there are no borders and it’s actually quite a clever bug. But make no mistake – it can also be a killer, and we need to learn how to live with it even when we do develop a vaccine.”

Jabeer Butt OBE, CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, told me: “What’s happening now has unfortunately been long in the making. For decades it has been known that black and minority ethnic people have, on average, poorer health, live in poorer housing, and work in poorer paid jobs. Opportunities to make real progress on inequality have been missed, and now we are seeing the results.”

Valuable Research

According to research carried out by the National Health Journal among all staff employed by the NHS, BAME account for approximately 21 per cent, including approximately 20 per cent among nursing and support staff and 44 per cent among medial staff.

BAME individuals account for 63 per cent, 64 per cent and 95 per cent of deaths in the same staff groups. BAME patients also accounted for 34 per cent of the patients admitted to UK intensive care units with Covid-19, but only 17 per cent of the UK population.

It seems doctors who died tended to be older than other staff members, with the vast majority being male. Most fatalities among nurses and supporting health care workers were in females.

The NHJ makes clear the excess of BAME health and social care workers who have died during this pandemic has not previously been formally analysed and therefore confirmed.

They say in their research already in the public domain: “It is not possible to know whether infection occurred at home or at work, but we have determined that the vast majority of individuals who died had both patient-facing jobs and were actively working during the pandemic. It seems likely that, unfortunately, many of the episodes of infection will have occurred during the course of work.”

PHE Message

PHE medical director, Yvonne Doyle, told Asian Sunday: “There is emerging evidence to suggest that Covid-19 may be having a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups. There is limited recording of ethnicity across almost all data sets so we must be very careful in making any assumptions. This is a really important issue and detailed and careful work needs to be done before we draw any conclusions.”

Last Friday The former Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Trevor Phillips OBE, was asked by Public Health England to provide expert support for its review. It’s hoped we can begin to report findings as early as next week.

Asian Sunday believes there needs to be recognition the health inequalities present in black and minority ethnic communities has put them at greater risk from the virus across the board. Going forward there needs to be a long-term pledge to end these inequalities.

Labour Party Review

Meanwhile the Labour Party has launched it’s own review asking Baroness Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, stabbed to death in a racist attack 27 years ago, to oversee it. This will be her first task as the party’s new race relations advisor.