Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden 2:05 pm, 18th June 2020

I agree with my right hon. Friend. That goes back to my earlier point: Public Health England needs far more functioning leadership.

Public Health England’s report says:

“It is clear from discussions with stakeholders the pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME communities in the UK.”

That is nothing new. Moreover, it confirms to me the wilful blindness of Public Health England and NHS England in addressing racial inequalities and their inability to put in place measures to address workplace risk and make sure that so many BAME staff were not exposed. In the time it took for Public Health England to review the disproportionate number of BAME deaths, another 17 doctors passed away. Sixteen of those were BAME.

What else do we know? We know that there is a significantly higher proportion of BAME healthcare workers in England across our health system; without BAME workers, there would not be a health system. We know that BAME workers are in lower-paid jobs and that they cannot work remotely. We know that BAME workers tend to work in high-risk areas, and that the families they go home to are high-risk individuals. It was a high-risk strategy, yet Public Health England and NHS England continued to expose high-risk staff to high-risk shifts.

We know that 94% of doctors who died were of a BAME background. In the biggest survey of its kind, ITV News asked the UK’s BAME healthcare community why they thought more of their BAME colleagues were dying than their white counterparts, and 50% felt that discriminatory behaviour played a role in the high death toll. One respondent described the treatment as “very unfair”, adding that “all BAME nurses” have been

“allocated to red wards and my white colleagues” are “constantly in green wards.” Perhaps more worryingly, ITV found that 53% of BAME respondents said that they felt they could not comfortably raise concerns about deployment, so they risked their health as against their employment.

To me, that suggests that the problem is related not to covid but to long-standing institutional inequalities. I want to hear from the Minister a resolute commitment to hold Public Health England and NHS England to account, and to ensure that the recommendations are acted on, reviewed and assessed by the real workers on the frontline who are most at risk—by that I mean BAME workers—and that all the data, good and bad, is shared in good time. I hope that the Minister understands that I have very little confidence in particular in Public Health England.

As we champion our frontline key workers, we also need to give them confidence that we have their backs. Like all public workers, they want to do their jobs, but many are concerned that if there is a second wave of covid they will be risking their lives or their families’. The BAME community has already been severely hit. I am not sure that it could take a second wave. For BAME health workers to die at such a rate frankly amounts to negligence on the part of NHS England and Public Health England, but perhaps it is not that surprising. Their leadership boasts 46 individuals; yet only four of them are from BAME backgrounds.

The country was united in tackling covid, but Public Health England and NHS England let down BAME health workers. They have time to put the record straight. Either we are in this together or we are not. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the Department is committed to ensuring that Public Health England and NHS England will treat, manage and support all their staff equally, so that we do not see a second wave of disproportionate BAME health worker deaths.