NHS workers from black or ethnic minority groups should be removed from the frontline over concerns they are more vulnerable to coronavirus – but it will heap pressure on their white colleagues, the Royal College of Surgeons has said today.
Professor Neil Mortensen, president-elect of the RCS, said until experts work out why almost two-thirds of NHS staff killed by Covid-19 are from BAME groups they should be shielded.
It came as new guidance sent by NHS England to hospitals nationwide asked that BAME staff are ‘risk-assessed’ on a ‘precautionary basis’ and potentially taken out of high risk areas if they are considered ‘vulnerable’. They should also get priority access to PPE.
Prof Mortensen has admitted that while he backed the new advice from NHS England – it would inevitably put pressure on other staff.
He told Sky News today: ‘They [BAME people] are a particularly at-risk group. Like other at-risk groups, I think they need to not be put in positions where they’re not quite so at risk. We don’t really quite know why yet, but it’s important they are removed from – if you like – from danger.’
Figures have shown 63 per cent of the 100-plus health and social care workers who have died from coronavirus were BAME. The first ten doctors in the UK to die from coronavirus were all of BAME background, with many born overseas.
And almost 50 per cent of all NHS medic and one in five of the health service’s entire 1.3million staff are from ethnic minorities. But in big cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester some trusts have approaching half of all workers from these groups, and removing many of them from their roles would put huge strain on the rest of the workforce.
Doctors and nurses from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus. Pictured are those that have died from the virus. NHS England has asked trusts to
BAME staff and their families will also be able to access testing within the first five days of developing any symptoms, and any who require an FFP3 mask – which offers greater protection than a normal surgical mask – will be supported to be fit-tested as soon as possible.
Hospitals received a letter from NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens (pictured earlier this week in Downing Street) and its chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard
And in terms of patients an Imperial College study found that 40 per cent of Covid-19 patients in three London hospitals were from ethnic minorities – when in the UK 19.5 per cent of the population is from those groups.
BAME patients also made up 16 per cent of all virus hospital deaths in England up to April 21.
Data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre has suggested 34.5% of critically ill Covid-19 patients have BAME backgrounds.
This is despite just 10.8% of the population being black or Asian, according to the 2011 census.
The Government has since launched an urgent inquiry into the alarming statistics.
Today’s letter from NHS England urges health trusts to make ‘appropriate arrangements’, which could include moving those from ethnic minority backgrounds away from the front line to non-patient facing roles.
The official guidance says UK data is showing these workers are being ‘disproportionately affected by Covid-19’.
Susan Tay, a community matron at Mersey NHS Care, stands in front of the ‘Liver Bird Wings’ artwork by Paul Curtis at Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said Public Health England had been asked by the Department for Health and Social Care to look into the issue.
He added: ‘In advance of their report and guidance, on a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk assess staff at a potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.’
It could mean BAME health workers being relocated to different roles within the NHS or ensuring they are adequately fitted with personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Department of Health and Social Care announced on April 16 that a review would take place to look into why BAME people were being affected disproportionately.
Recently, bosses at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust wrote to BAME employees establishing how they can be supported during the pandemic.
The letter encouraged staff to ensure they are properly fitted with appropriate PPE and to access testing for themselves and family members.
Peter Lewis, chief executive at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘We recognise how worrying it is at the moment for our colleagues and we want to provide them with as much support as we can.
‘Our BAME colleagues make a significant contribution to our Trust and the care we provide to patients. We are grateful for their ongoing commitment.’
Yvonne Coghill, director of NHS England’s workforce race equality standard unit, tweeted ‘many should follow the lead of Somerset FT,’ describing the trust as ‘compassionate’ with strong leadership.
The Government has launched an inquiry into the ‘devastating disparity’ which means BAME patients are at disproportionately high risk of becoming critically ill with coronavirus.
Scientists say the disparity may be because they are more likely to suffer from conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Social and demographic factors also play a role, as BAME people are more likely to live in densely populated areas which may make social distancing harder.
The British Medical Association (BMA) also suggested that BAME doctors may feel less able to raise concerns about inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), as they report higher levels of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Pictured: Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, part of the Somerset Foundation Trust that is making sure BAME staff get better access to facemasks
Earlier this week the Somerset Foundation Trust became the first in the country to prioritise BAME staff for access to facemasks (staff pictured wearing full personal protective equipment at Royal Liverpool University Hospital)
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chairman, said a survey showed doctors from ethnic minorities were three times more likely to feel pressured to treat patients without adequate PPE.
He said: ‘These figures are staggering. They are worrying and disturbing. In fact these doctors have come from other parts of the world to provide vital care and save other people’s lives in our health service and now they have sadly paid the ultimate sacrifice.’
Dr Habib Naqvi, the NHS director for workforce race and equality, said: ‘The fact that a high number of black and minority ethnic staff are dying from this pandemic is a worry for us.’
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said: ‘It’s critical that we find out which groups are most at risk so we can help to protect them.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We have commissioned work from Public Health England to understand the different factors that may influence the way someone is affected by this virus.’