COVID-19 impact has highlighted racial inequalities and some root causes

Niall Dickson

Responding to Public Health England's COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said:

“The impact of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic communities and healthcare staff has highlighted racial inequalities and some of their root causes.

“There is much we still do not know, and these figures do not take account of comorbidities which may well explain some of the differences.  Working age men are twice as likely to die than working age women, while by far the biggest differential factor is age - those who are in their 80s are 70 times more likely to die than those under 40.

“But race is clearly a significant factor even if we cannot explain all the reasons why this may be the case. It is striking that people of Bangladeshi background had twice the risk of death than white people.

“The usual cry of ‘more research’ usually elicits groans but it is the right response here and reflects that everyone is trying to understand the impact of a new virus on some known inequalities. We also do need to know more about the larger number of deaths among a range of lower paid caring occupations including social care, nursing auxiliaries and assistants.

“That is one of the reasons why we should all welcome the creation of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, which the NHS Confederation will be hosting. It will identify and help to tackle the disproportionate effects that race can have on patients, communities, and staff.

“For now, health and care organisations are putting in place practical measures to risk assess their staff, and we have issued guidance to support this. This should include whether to put in place shielding measures and making sure there is adequate protective equipment available at all times.”

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