Doctors have called for the recommendations of a report into the impact of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic people to be implemented immediately.
The British Medical Association said it was “critical” to carry out risk assessments of vulnerable groups and protect them at work.
Racism could contribute to increased risks for BAME groups, the report said.
Commissioned by Public Health England, it has seven recommendations.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the council of the British Medical Association, told the BBC: “It’s important we now move forward and deliver those changes because it’s the fair and right thing to do for our population.”
He said more than 90% of doctors who had died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds. Doctors from these communities were also three times as likely to say they had felt pressured to work without sufficient protective equipment, he added.
Dr Nagpaul said the recommendation for risk assessments would mean workers at the greatest risk – in healthcare and other key worker roles – could be redeployed into safer roles, such as tackling the backlog of non-coronavirus illness in the NHS.
The report, the second by PHE on Covid-19 inequalities and previously seen by the BBC in draft, said “historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work” meant people in BAME groups were less likely to seek care when they needed or speak up if they had concerns about risk in the workplace.
Some people from BAME communities feared being deported if they went to hospital for treatment, the report said.
It was prompted by data showing that black and Asian groups had the highest death rates from coronavirus. People of Bangladeshi ethnicity had twice the risk of death than people of white British ethnicity, accounting for age and sex.
The report said the unequal impact may be explained by social and economic inequalities, racism, discrimination and stigma, differing risks at work and inequalities in the prevalence of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which can increase the severity of Covid-19.
The report recommends:
- 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 BAME 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 BAME 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 BAME 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
The existence of this second report was revealed by Prof Raj Bhopal from Edinburgh University, following criticism that an earlier review contained no recommendations. Prof Bhopal said it had initially been “suppressed”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme that the recommendations are “absolutely excellent” and could make England “probably the world leader” in addressing Covid-19 inequalities.
Prof Bhopal said it was particularly important to provide public health information in languages other than English and called for the daily Downing Street briefing to to be translated.
“Currently the messages are going out for a largely white middle-class British population,” he added.
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