Elderly Asian doctors ‘could focus on non-Covid cases’


(Photo: iStock).
(Photo: iStock).

By Amit Roy

THERE is no question of pulling Asian healthcare workers from frontline duties, Ramesh Mehta, president of BAPIO (Brit­ish Association of Physi­cians of Indian Origin), has made clear.

This is the impression that has been given in some national newspapers.

Mehta said he had sug­gested that some elderly Indi­an doctors, who had come out of retirement to help the NHS in its hour of need, could be switched to non-Covid-19 work if they were deemed to be especially vulnerable.

This is also the opinion of Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA (Brit­ish Medical Association) council, who said: “It’s about redeployment. (There is) plenty of work for doctors in non-Covid facing situations.”

The government has asked Public Health England (PHE) to investigate why the Covid-19 toll has been dispro­portionately high in the black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities.

Data from the Intensive Care Na­tional Audit and Research Centre has suggested that 34.5 per cent of critical­ly ill coronavirus patients have BAME backgrounds. This is despite just 10.8 per cent of the population being black or Asian, according to the 2011 census. Indians are the worst affected.

Sir Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, said in a letter to health trusts: “In advance of their [PHE] re­port and guidance, on a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk assess staff at a potentially greater risk and make appropriate ar­rangements accordingly.”

The NHS guidelines have been mis­understood in some quarters. Some think all Indian doctors and nurses and other ethnic minority healthcare employees are being withdrawn from frontline duties. If that was the case, one tabloid newspaper reader argued, there would be very little point in re­cruiting them from overseas.

Mehta, who was given an OBE in 2017 for his “exemplary services to the NHS, spanning over 30 years” and served until his retirement as a consultant and lead paediatrician at Bedford Hos­pital, revealed: “There are 65,000 doc­tors of Indian origin in the NHS – they are the backbone of the NHS.”

He also disclosed some 2,000 doc­tors have come out of retirement: “Most of them are about 65, some of them are 70, 75, they have come back. They are not just Asian, but all nation­alities, including whites as well.”

He said that vulnerable Indian doc­tors “should not work in the Covid area – of course not”.

Mehta explained: “The NHS is a big thing – it does not do just Covid. Lots of normal things are happening, people are having heart attacks, people are having cancer so while the young doc­tors are moved into the Covid wards, all other services that NHS can provide can be done by these people who are coming back now.”

BAPIO has suggested a question­naire which can be filled in by doctors to assess whether they are at risk: “Are they healthy people? Do they have any other conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease)? How old are they? Are they generally fit people or not? That is the screening. This is not the screening for Covid.”

BAPIO, he said, had made recom­mendations to the NHS bosses. “That’s why they had to take this action.”

He emphasised: “Asian workers can’t be withdrawn from the frontline – that can’t happen. All the BAME doctors are in the frontline. Most of the healthcare workers who are dying are BAME peo­ple. What we have realised is the im­portance of BAME workers to the NHS.

“The small percentage related to age and comorbidity needs to be protect­ed. That does not mean all Asian doc­tors will be withdrawn.

“Younger people who are mostly junior doctors – they don’t have any problems. They should not have any problems. This is mostly with senior, elderly consultants who are likely to have an issue and that is why screening is important.”