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 Some think all Indian doctors and nurses and other ethnic minority healthcare employees are being withdrawn from frontline duties.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.”