Government urged to investigate high ethnic minority coronavirus deaths

Matt Hancock

Several Muslim MPs have asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock to investigate whether ethnic minorities in the UK are more vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak. 

In a joint letter to Hancock with other MPs, Yasmin Qureshi, Apsana Begum, Tahir Ali, Imran Hussain, Rupa Huq and Zarah Sultana urged the government to set up a task force to explore data to better understand ethnic minority patients.

They said: “We write with concern about the news that the first 10 doctors in the UK named as having died from COVID-19 are from a BAME background. These were people who came to this country to make a difference and have given their lives to the NHS and to save the lives of others…

“The deaths of these 10 doctors are not a coincidence and have raised serious concerns from the British Medical Association and the Association of Pakistani Physicians UK. Whilst no one is immune from COVID-19 we hope that you will agree that the impact of existing structural inequalities must be urgently investigated.”

The MPs’ call came after the head of the British Medical Association called on the government to urgently investigate if and why black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The first 10 doctors in the UK named as having died from the virus were all BAME with ancestry in regions including Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Yasmin Qureshi MP

Even allowing for the overrepresentation of BAME staff in the NHS – they comprise 44% of medical staff compared with 14% of the population of England and Wales – the fact that they were all from ethnic minorities was “extremely disturbing and worrying”, the BMA chair 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,” Dr Chaand Nagpaul said. “Not only that, we also know that in terms of the BAME population, they make up about a third of those in intensive care.

“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.”

Three out of six nurses named as having died have also been BAME. The overall death figures in the UK have not been broken down by ethnicity but early research published last week showed that 35% of almost 2,000 patients in intensive care units were non-white.

Among the wider BAME population, Nagpaul suggested the fact that many were in key worker roles, combined with their living arrangements, could be contributing to their disproportionate presence in intensive care units.

“You’ve got a high proportion of BAME people not able to stay at home, serving the nation, putting themselves at risk,” he said. “If you add that to overcrowded and multigenerational occupancies, the infections can be brought back home and spread to other members of the family.”

Nagpaul also highlighted the higher prevalence of diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease among BAME communities than in the white population, adding: “Previous inequalities will be greater at a time of crisis. This [coronavirus] may be bringing into focus historic inequalities facing BAME communities.”

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