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English COVID-19 cases to be tracked by ethnicity

Published on 20/04/20 at 11:40am
Photo by Fernando Zhiminaicela

Cases of coronavirus are set to be tracked by ethnicity in England following an announced government review.

The governments have confirmed that the NHS and Public Health England will be analysing why people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds appear to be disproportionately affected by the global pandemic. However, no date has been given on when the review will take place.

On Saturday, National Medical Director of NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, said that: “This is something that I am very concerned about.  And I think it’s absolutely right that he’s asked Public Health England, who have the expertise to look at this in detail and get a clear understanding of what might be accounting for increased risks and increased deaths in particular ethnic communities.

“In NHS England, obviously, we have a number of our staff come from those ethnic groups, and we are actively also looking ahead of that work, of what we have to do to support, and, perhaps, protect them specifically.”

Currently, out of 4,873 patients in critical care from COVID-19, 1,681 are from BAME groups which accounts for 34.5% of cases. This is despite this community making up only 10.8% of the population.

Almost three quarters of healthcare workers who have died are also from BAME backgrounds.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA council, commented on the announced review and said: “The Government must take every necessary step to address this devastating disparity and protect all sectors of the population equally and now. That is why the Government must send a directive to every hospital telling them to record the ethnicity of patients who are admitted and succumb to COVID-19 immediately.

“It also means taking vital steps now to protect our BAME communities until we can develop a detailed understanding of the threats they face. This could include that those at greatest risk, including older and retired doctors, are not working in potentially infectious settings.”

The US is facing a similar problem, with COVID-19 killing black Americans at a higher rate than any other groups. This is due to black Americans being 30% more likely to have health conditions that exacerbate the effects of the virus such as hypertension and diabetes, while also being overrepresented as workers in the healthcare system.

The impact of the virus is also worse on these communities due to racial inequality causing higher rates of poverty. Arthur Caplan, the Director of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s program in medical ethics said: “Racial inequality is highlighted when you’re going through a plague. Coronavirus didn’t create these issues; it emphasizes the differences we usually ignore.”

Conor Kavanagh

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