COVID-19: review will assess if ethnicity puts some healthcare staff at higher risk

Government review to look at concerns about black, Asian and minority ethnic healthcare staff being disproportionately affected by COVID-19

Black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses
Picture: iStock

A government review will specifically address concerns that healthcare staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Downing Street confirmed that the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) are leading a wider review into why ethnicity seems to be a risk factor during the pandemic.

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the review will also look 'very specifically' at healthcare staff.

Critical to find out which groups are most at risk so people can be protected

It comes as more than a dozen nursing staff, and the first ten doctors named as having died from COVID-19 in the UK, were from BAME communities.

Professor Whitty said it was critical to find out which groups are most at risk so they can be protected. 

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'This is something we're very keen to get extremely clear about healthcare workers. We've asked PHE to look at this in some detail and then what we really want, if we see any signal at all, is to know what to do next about it to minimise risk.'

Last week, data on patients with confirmed COVID-19 from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) suggested ethnic minorities are over-represented compared with the general population.

Equality impact assessments

Of 1,966 patients with COVID-19, the ICNARC said 64.8% were white, 13.6% black, 13.8% Asian, and 6.6% were described as other.

Around 7.5% of the population were Asian and 3.3% black in the 2011 UK census.

Middlesex University research fellow Roger Kline told Nursing Standard that the government and employers must 'take immediate action' to safeguard BAME staff.

‘The government should compel employers to immediately carry out equality impact assessments, to risk assess their systems and their workforce, through using already available information on people known to be at risk from COVID-19.'

Reluctant to raise concerns

Mr Kline said that staff with underlying health conditions, or with family members who did, needed to be given the same consideration as patients with underlying conditions.

He said: ‘Are there staff who shouldn’t be anywhere near the workplace and who should be working elsewhere?'

Mr Kline added that BAME staff were also less likely to whistle-blow or speak about workplace issues: ‘The staff most at risk are the most reluctant to raise concerns.'

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