New data has revealed that 97% of Britain’s medical staff who have died from COVID-19 were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. According to a new report by Byline Times, 33 out of 34 coronavirus deaths among medical professionals were from BAME communities. The report added that 65% of nursing staff (42 workers) and 63% of healthcare assistants (22) who have died were also from BAME communities. Overall, 60% of the fatalities among frontline healthcare and care workers were from BAME communities.
The shocking new data seems to confirm previous fears that healthcare workers from BAME communities in Britain are significantly more vulnerable to COVID-19. Thus far, there has been no firm evidence of a genetic factor that makes BAME groups more susceptible to the disease. The chair of the British Medical Association, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, urged the government to investigate why BAME healthcare workers were disproportionately contracting the virus. Dr. Nagpaul told ITV News, that simply being a BAME doctor “puts you at risk”.
Some experts believe that several workplace factors could explain the disproportionate numbers. Female BAME staff in nursing and care, for example, tend to be among those lower-paid. Moreover, the majority of BAME doctors in the U.K. are men, and early data suggests that COVID-19 disproportionately affects men (as well as those with cardiovascular conditions). It has also been suggested that BAME staff within the NHS tend to be deployed onto the frontlines. Dame Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), wrote on her blog that one BAME nurse had described how “agency nurses from BAME backgrounds are moved or pressured to work on COVID-19 ward.” She also added that “non-permanent staff struggle to get all PPE required.”
In late April, NHS bosses set out a plan to try and protect BAME staff in the NHS. It asked that BAME staff be “risk assessed” and that NHS leaders “make appropriate arrangements accordingly”. It did not outline which specific measures should be taken. Some have suggested that BAME staff be redeployed to services where they would be less at risk of being infected with COVID-19. However, there are major doubts about the viability of such a plan, considering the huge pressure put on the NHS by COVID-19. In many cases, wards simply cannot afford to have staff moved away from the frontlines.
Increasingly, NHS hospitals are taking steps to help BAME staff in the face of the disproportionate numbers. According to the Guardian, the Somerset NHS foundation trust, for example, has classed BAME staff as “vulnerable and at risk” and has given them priority for testing. Many hospitals have also made BAME staff a priority when it comes to PPE coverage. However, there are still many reports of PPE shortages and rationing among NHS staff. Staff even report being told not to talk publicly about shortages by NHS managers.