By S Neeraj Krishna
HEALTH and social leaders in the UK have cautioned that action to tackle disproportionate impact of the pandemic is “needed now more than ever”.
Concerns were raised over the weekend as reports said one-third of Covid-19 patients in intensive care were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The British Medical Association said government failure to implement remedial measures could lead to more disproportionate deaths as seen earlier in the UK.
That would imply the UK was failing to protect “our vulnerable communities”, said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chair, who had in April urged the government to order a probe into why BAME people were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Several reports — including one from Public Health England – had concluded that people from some ethnic groups were significantly higher risks. However, experts noted, little action had on this disparity.
“We are continuing to see BAME people suffering disproportionately in terms of intensive care admissions, so not acting means that we’re not protecting our vulnerable communities,” Nagpaul told the Guardian.
“Action was needed back in July and it’s certainly needed now more than ever.
“As the infection rate rises, there’s no reason to believe that the BAME population will not suffer again because no action has been taken to protect them. They are still at higher risk of serious ill health and dying.”
Following widespread criticism of the PHE analysis in June for its failure to detail an action plan, Health Secretary Matt Hancock assured that the government would outline “what further could be done”.
A subsequent PHE report put forth many measures such as engaging BAME groups in research to help understand the social, economic and cultural tangents of the pandemic.
It also called for enhancing NHS experiences for BAME patients, and boosting diverse representation at various staff levels.
Other key plans included implementing “culturally competent” health campaigns, and long-term reforms to eliminate racial inequalities.
Nagpaul observed that most recommendations had just remained on paper.
“I am deeply concerned that three months since the publication of the PHE review, we have heard nothing from the government around any specific action or implementation of any of the recommendations,” he said.
“We must remind ourselves that the purpose of the review was to protect a sector of our population who have been disproportionately harmed.”
Dr Zubaida Haque, member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said: “A good point to start is to ask the government: ‘What exactly have you done?’ Because we haven’t seen anything that they’ve done. It does feel like the ball’s been kicked into the long grass with the recommendations because we’ve never seen nor heard anything and we’re on the verge of the second wave.
“Have they set up necessary … accommodation support [for people self-isolating] and have they ensured that the public health messages around social distancing and help for self-isolation is reaching black and ethnic minority people on the ground, including those who may not be fluent [in English]?”
Operation Black Vote director Simon Woolley, who had mooted a national Covid-19 race equality strategy, warned that the second coronavirus wave “will take away those that are most vulnerable”.
“Without a clear health plan… we could be hit again,” he added.
A government spokesperson said the equalities minister was “taking forward vital work to tackle disparities and protect our most vulnerable communities”.
On Sunday (20), the government announced a support package to provide a £500 payment to low-paid workers who lose income due to mandatory self-isolation, starting from from September 28.
“This work will continue throughout 2020 and 2021 and the first of the quarterly updates will be provided to the health secretary and the prime minister in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson added. “This will show progress made against the published terms of reference and action taken to tackle Covid-19 disparities.”