UK urged to investigate coronavirus deaths of BAME doctors

Calls for UK government to investigate coronavirus deaths of Black, Asian doctors
4 min read
11 April, 2020
The head of the British Medical Association has urged the government to investigate if and why black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more vulnerable to Covid-19.
Areema Nasreen died at 36 [Walsall healthcare NHS trust/PA]
The British government has been urged to investigate the deaths of medical staffs from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups by a doctors' organisation, after it emerged that the first 10 doctors to die of Covid-19 in the UK were all BAME.

Authorities were urged to find out why BAME doctors were more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the head of the British Medical Association, who called on the government to act urgently.

Although BAME doctors make up 44 percent of medical personnel in UK's National Health Service (NHS), the fact that all who have died so far were from ethnic minorities was "extremely disturbing and worrying", Nagpaul said.

"At face value, it seems hard to see how this can be random – to have the first 10 doctors of all being of BAME background," the BMA chair told the Guardian on Friday.

"Not only that, we also know that in terms of the BAME population, they make up about a third of those in intensive care. There's a disproportionate percentage of BAME people getting ill.

"We have heard the virus does not discriminate between individuals but there's no doubt there appears to be a manifest disproportionate severity of infection in BAME people and doctors. This has to be addressed – the government must act now."

On Thursday, a GP of Syrian orgin became the 10th BAME doctor to die while working for the NHS during the pandemic.

The other doctors had come from Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Acknowledging their migrant background, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Many of those who have died who are from the NHS were people who came to this country to make a difference, and they did, and they've given their lives in sacrifice, and we salute them."

As well as the 10 doctors, three out of six nurses who died of Covid-19 were BAME.

On Saturday, the NHS announced that a further 823 people have died in hospital in England after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the death toll there to 8,937.

The overall death figures in the UK have not been broken down by ethnicity but early research published this week showed that 35 percent of patients in intensive care units were non-white.

Read also: British Muslim nurse Areema Nasreen becomes UK's youngest health worker to die of coronavirus

Disproportionately affecting BAME

The study conducted by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that 35 percent of almost coronavirus 2,000 patients studied were non-white. This is nearly triple the 13 percent proportion BAME people make up in the UK population as a whole.

The study, which looked at admissions to a sample of 286 critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland up until last week, found that fourteen per cent of the most serious cases were Asian and the same proportion were black.

The findings have led to calls for more research into why coronavirus is disproportionately affecting non-white ethnic groups.

"This is a signal and it needs to be looked at more carefully," Kamlesh Khunti, professor in primary care diabetes and vascular medicine at the University of Leicester, told the Guardian.

"For example, South Asians live in more deprived areas and have more cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

Khunti also pointed to another possible factor - South Asian families often live with three or four generations under one roof, limiting the possibilities for vulnerable people to fully isolate.

"We need to ensure that every individual, including the BAME population, are following social distancing instructions," Khunti told the Guardian.

We have anecdotal information that it might not be happening in certain BAME groups."

Other factors

There are also other socio-economic factors at play. NHS workers, as well as transport workers, are disproportionately drawn from ethnic minorities.

Tributes poured in last week for British Muslim nurse Areema Nasreen, 36, after she became the UK's youngest health worker to die from the illness. 

The married mum of three was tested positive for the disease whilst working in Walsall Manor hospital in the West Midlands, where she had worked for 16 years.

Two British-Sudanese doctors died from Covid-19 that same week, as well as a British-Pakistani physician.

Hospital bosses and doctors have warned of being swamped by a "tsunami" of Covid-19 patients in London, as the UK braces for a peak in cases and the government faced calls to urgently provide specialist kit and tests for frontline health workers.

The UK initially adopted a light-touch approach to the outbreak but has since imposed tougher measures, including a three-week lockdown, as confirmed cases and deaths climbed.

Frontline healthcare workers say a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as insufficient testing of staff for Covid-19, is putting them and patients at risk.

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