Daily ethnicity data key to COVID-19 death disparity review: UK

LONDON: The UK’s leading doctors’ union on Friday called on the government to ensure its review into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities must be informed by the real-time data collection for the real effect.

The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed Downing Street’s announcement this week that the Public Health England will be leading an investigation into the factors behind the higher death rates and more severe symptoms of the novel coronavirus among Indian and other ethnic minority communities in the country.

However, the exact nature of the review is yet to be laid out, with calls for it to be independent as well as with some definitive parameters.

We are pleased that the government has heeded the BMA’s call for this review. However, if the review is to have any meaningful impact, it needs to be informed with real-time data to understand why and how this deadly virus can have such a tragic disproportionate toll on our BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities and healthcare workers, said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA Council Chair.

Nagpaul had pushed for the review after an “overwhelming majority” of those who have died from coronavirus came from the BAME communities.

This must include daily updates on ethnicity, circumstance and all protected characteristics of all patients in hospital as well as levels of illness in the community, which is not currently recorded.

The government must take every necessary step to address this devastating disparity and protect all sectors of the population equally and now, he said.

The BMA wants the government to issue a directive to every hospital telling them to record the ethnicity of patients who are admitted and succumb to COVID-19 immediately.

Among some of the measures to be put in place immediately until a detailed understanding of the threats faced by BAME communities is established, it also recommends that those at greatest risk, including older and retired doctors, are kept away from working in potentially infectious settings.

A failure to take such steps will mean that the heart-breaking questions of the families, friends and colleagues of those who have died before their time will remain. We stand ready to play our part, to fight this inequality, and help protect all doctors and health and care staff, Nagpaul said.

A report by the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) recently revealed that the country’s ethnic minority population is more likely to require intensive care admissions, nearly triple the 13 per cent proportion in the UK population as a whole.

It suggested this could be linked to socio-economic factors and the demographic make-up of the two worst-affected cities in the UK, namely London and Birmingham.

The alarm bells went off as the first 10 medics on the frontlines of the National Health Service (NHS) to die from the virus were from BAME communities, including Indian-origin doctors.

We have seen, both across the population as a whole but in those who work in the NHS, a much higher proportion who’ve died from minority backgrounds and that really worries me, said UK health secretary Matt Hancock as the review was announced.

“I pay tribute to the work they’ve done, including those who were born here, moved here, and given that service to the NHS. It’s a really important thing that we must try to fully understand,” he said.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has also taken steps to conduct its own research into the issue and reached out to the health authorities for more data.

The devastating effect of COVID-19 on BAME communities cannot be overstated. This review must be the first step in ensuring that all communities are equally protected from this virus, said Marsha de Cordova, UK Opposition Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary.

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