Covid-19, Race, NHS workers and Inequality: The UK Situation
On the 29th of April, NHS England released guidance to all health professional bodies and NHS employers highlighting the need to undertake specific risk assessments for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees in light of growing evidence that they were likely to be more adversely affected by Covid-19, with potentially higher mortality rates. The NHS Employers’ Federation, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, General Practitioners, and Pharmaceutical Publications have drawn attention to the NHS England guidance, as has the media. In addition to this, NHS England wrote an open letter to BAME health personnel on the 1st of May, assuring them of the steps that it was taking to enhance their protection in light of the identified risks.
The implications of the implementation of the NHS guidance are vast, as it might mean that BAME staff need to be reassigned to roles away from frontline duties, thus lessening their exposure to the risk of contracting Covid-19. This is a particular challenge in light of the high proportion of health workers from a BAME background. The Guardian reports that one in five NHS staff in England are from a BAME background, as are about half of all doctors in London; while the Financial Times indicates that people from BAME communities comprise 44 per cent of the overall NHS staff and about 13 per cent of the UK population. In any event, it appears that the removal from frontline duties of a significant portion of this population would have detrimental effects on the abilities of the NHS to deliver good quality services during a pandemic. Community pharmacies would not be spared the challenge.
The alternative is to ensure that all staff, irrespective of ethnic or racial background, have access to adequate PPE to undertake their duties safely; and that procedures and controls are in place to ensure that they take make use of such PPE. Ongoing discussion with higher risk individual/groups will also help identify additional steps to minimise the risks.
The video presents a background to the ongoing discussion around racial differences in mortality rates in the UK. It was prepared in response to a question from a colleague arising from the news outlined above.