BRITISH authorities have agreed to allow National Health Service (NHS) staff from black Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds to operate away from the frontline after recent research showed that they are more vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.
Across Britain, minority groups were over-represented when it came to the number of coronavirus casualties, accounting for as much as 27% in the overall death toll. This is partially down to the fact that a lot of Bame workers are employed in the public sector, where they are on the frontline working as doctors, nurses, transport workers, bus drivers, etc.
For instance, one in five of NHS staff in England are from a Bame background, as are about half of all doctors working in London. Worldwide, the UK is number two in terms of casualties who have died from the virus, having suffered 30,615 deaths, with 206,715 people affected nationwide.
Given the disproportionate toll the virus is taking on black people, NHS trusts have been told to give staffs from Bame backgrounds different roles away from the frontline. Also, Bame personnel should be risk-assessed and reassigned to duties that leave them at lesser risk of contracting coronavirus, under a new set of guidelines published by NHS bosses in England.
This move was unveiled in a letter sent to hospital trusts, providers of mental health care, ambulance services and organisations providing community-based healthcare. It makes clear that the new guidance was prompted by growing evidence that people of Bame origin are more at risk from Covid-19 and by the need to save lives.
A nine-page letter, from NHS improvement’s chief operating officer, Amanda Pritchard, said: “Emerging UK and international data suggest that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds are also being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. In advance of a Public Health England (PHE) report and guidance, on a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk-assess staff at potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.”
It references the fact that the Department of Health and Social Care has already asked PHE to investigate and report back on the unusually high number of Bame people, including workers in the NHS, who are falling ill and dying from the virus. However, the letter does not outline what specific measures they should take to protect the safety of their Bame staff but it is understood that the new drive to reduce the death toll would allow such personnel to be redeployed to areas or services where they would have less chance of becoming infected.
In addition, they may also be given priority for testing if they develop symptoms. Some NHS trusts have already recognised the extra risk faced by their Bame workforce and taken steps to reduce the risk.
For example, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, which provides a wide range of medical services in the county, has classed its Bame staff as vulnerable and at risk. It has begun asking Bame staff if they feel safe at work, giving them priority for testing and ensuring that they undergo a fit-test in order to wear an FFP3 ventilator mask, which all health professionals working with Covid-positive patients are meant to use as a key part of their personal protective equipment.
Peter Lewis, the trust’s chief executive told Bame staff: “Many of you will be concerned about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Bame colleagues in the UK. We understand that this is worrying and we want to do all we can to ensure you feel safe and supported during this difficult time.
“Your wellbeing is very important. We have heard that many Bame colleagues are understandably worried about their own and their families’ health at this time.”
It is still not known for certain why such a disparity exists between ethnic groups in the UK but some experts have cited social deprivation and higher rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease among black people as likely factors. Also, minority ethnic people make up a greater number of those employed in key worker roles who receive greater exposure to the virus.