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Covid-19: Government must act now on impact on BAME communities

This week’s report by Public Health England (PHE) looking into coronavirus inequalities, ‘Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on BAME groups’ provides even more evidence of the structural and racial inequalities which have led to the Covid-19 pandemic hitting black, Asian and minority ethnic communities across the UK so very hard.

These recommendations should never have been blocked by Government in the first place.

Thousands of people and organisations across the country have made it clear that urgent, collaborative and decisive action is needed. I heard that view too listening to concerns amongst community leaders from across Portsmouth in a zoom call arranged by the social care team at the city council last week.

We now know that whilst people from ethnic minority backgrounds constitute 14% of the UK population, they worryingly account for 34% of critically ill Covid-19 patients and a similar percentage of all Covid-19 cases.

The PHE report makes seven recommendations to address inequalities:

  • Better data collection about ethnicity and religion, including having this recorded on death certificates to accurately monitor the impact on these communities
  • Supporting further research with the participation of ethnic minority communities to understand the increased risk and develop programmes to reduce it
  • Improving BAME groups’ access to, experiences of and outcomes from NHS and other services – using audits, health impact assessments and better representation of black and minority ethnic communities among staff
  • Developing risk assessments for black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in roles where they are exposed to a large section of the general public or those infected with the virus
  • Producing culturally sensitive education and prevention campaigns to rebuild trust and help communities access services such as contact tracing, antibody testing and a future vaccine
  • Targeting ethnic minority groups with culturally sensitive health messages to address conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma
  • Ensuring that Covid-19 recovery strategies actively address inequalities to create long-term change

Why are these recommendations so important? We know the health and care workforce in England are significantly over-represented by people from BAME groups. Often, BAME workers are in lower paid roles within the NHS, which means that these roles cannot be done remotely. Over 90% of the doctors who have died during the pandemic have been BAME, more than double the proportion in the medical workforce as a whole.

We also know that individuals from the most deprived communities are nearly twice as likely to be admitted to intensive care as the least deprived. The most recent research from the UK suggests that both ethnicity and income inequality are independently associated with COVID-19 mortality.

Most worryingly of all, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the death rate among British black Africans and British Pakistanis from coronavirus in English hospitals is over 2.5 times that of the white population. The deaths of people from a black Caribbean background are 1.7 times higher than the white population.

The Government cannot make the same mistakes again if there is a second wave of coronavirus this Autumn. When PHE’s second report states that ‘historic racism’ may have been a factor which prevented individuals from speaking up about risk in the workplace, this must act as a wake-up call for decision-makers.

That’s why I want Ministers to act now and produce a detailed action plan on how the recommendations from the PHE report will be implemented.

I will continue to listen to local voices and Portsmouth’s BAME groups to make sure our views are heard in Westminster, and commit to holding the Government to account when mistakes are made.

Stephen Morgan MP