May I start by thanking Dawn Butler for securing this debate, while also apologising to her for missing the initial stages of her speech?
Last week in this Chamber, I spoke of forgotten people, particularly in my constituency of Dudley North. Sometimes, it takes an extraordinary event to bring to light weaknesses and underlying problems that perhaps would otherwise simmer below the surface, unseen, leaving people to suffer in silence. So many have lost family, friends and colleagues to this disease, and nearly all are experiencing the impact that this disease is having on their communities, with all the significant social, physical and mental health impacts and complications that come as collateral to the disease.
I want to reiterate today the need to level up support and to listen to and help our forgotten communities—communities that are impacted disproportionately socially and economically and that might have poor experiences of healthcare or at work that mean they are less likely to seek care when they need it or to speak up when they have concerns about their safety and welfare at work.
My election in December gave me an opportunity to make new friends. I think of Haji Malik, who has lived in Dudley for many, many decades, a pillar of the community there. Meeting him and getting to know him and his family, and many others, has been a very real learning experience for me, which I want to continue with as far as lockdown measures allow it.
What is clear to me, having visited Russells Hall Hospital in my constituency on several occasions, is the very noticeable proportion of staff who are from BAME communities, so the very people we are identifying as being at the greatest risk from covid-19 are the ones fighting this disease on the frontline in our health service. I very much welcome the suggestions in a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which highlights structural inequalities such as difficulty in accessing leadership teams and being heard, fewer opportunities for non-mandatory training, and higher risks of being bullied. In the longer term, steps towards improving organisational culture and capability will also enhance risk management. This is a leadership question that starts in this place, and it should then be delivered in every trust board in the country and, indeed, in every other institution in the country.
While not comprehensive, there is a lot of data in the recently published Public Health England report, which hon. Friends have already mentioned, that I hope will help our scientific community to better understand and fight this awful disease, to protect the most vulnerable, and to help our hospitals cope with potential future pandemics. I am encouraged that PHE has made a series of recommendations that could make a significant difference in improving the lives and experiences of BAME communities specifically. The Government’s commitment to deliver £33.9 billion of investment in the NHS—the largest cash boost in its history—can make reducing health inequalities possible by delivering opportunity for change. But change needs to be large-scale and transformative, and action is needed to change structural and societal environments such as homes, neighbourhoods and workplaces, not solely focusing on individuals.
We have a legal duty and a moral responsibility to our constituents to reduce inequalities. There are real, practical measures we can take to help tackle these inequalities and help the victims. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has suggested that every trust carry out a risk assessment on the impacts that covid-19 has on its BAME staff. It has warned of the potential for long-term psychological impacts on healthcare staff, and specifically BAME staff. I would be keen to hear my Government colleagues’ plans to support this suggestion and to support the long-term mental health and wellbeing of our healthcare workers, particularly BAME staff, once this initial pandemic is over.