Coronavirus: UK’s largest union urges Boris Johnson to ‘close the gaps’ over health inequalities among BAME groups

Unison asking government to implement all recommendations from Public Health England (PHE) report on disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority groups

Samuel Lovett
Tuesday 23 June 2020 07:28 BST
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The largest trade union in the country has urged prime minister Boris Johnson to “close the gaps” over the UK’s health inequalities and protect BAME people from Covid-19.

Unison, which has almost 1.4 million members, is asking the government to implement all recommendations from a Public Health England (PHE) report which suggested black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are dying from Covid-19 at greater rates than people in white ethnic groups.

The review said “historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work” may make BAME individuals less likely to seek care when needed or, as NHS staff, to speak up when they have concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) or increased risk.

It also said the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority groups may be explained by social and economic inequalities, differing risks at work and the prevalence of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which can increase the severity of the disease.

Separate data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that black people are 1.9 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people, while British-Indians are around 1.5 times more likely.

And analysis from PHE also found that once in hospital, people from BAME backgrounds were more likely to then require admission to an intensive care unit.

In a letter sent to the PM, Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis said “coronavirus is inextricably linked to inequality”.

“Urgent action is needed to close the gaps in health inequalities and poverty that accelerate susceptibility to coronavirus and life expectancy,” he said.

“Black workers and communities deserve to have the PHE report acted upon and their lives valued and protected as all others.”

The PHE report, based on stakeholder engagement with more than 4,000 people, called for immediate action in areas such as housing to reduce inequalities and “targeted messaging on smoking, obesity and improving management of common conditions including hypertension and diabetes”.

It also recommended: better data collection about ethnicity and religion, which should also be recorded on death certificates; using audits and health impact assessments to improve BAME groups’ access to, experiences of and outcomes from NHS services; and producing culturally sensitive education to rebuild trust and help communities access services.

Doctors have also called for the recommendations of the report to be implemented immediately. The British Medical Association said it was “critical” to carry out risk assessments of vulnerable groups and protect them at work.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the council of the British Medical Association, said: “It’s important we now move forward and deliver those changes because it’s the fair and right thing to do for our population.”

However, the review has still attracted criticism for being too vague. Kamlesh Khunti, a professor of primary care diabetes and vascular medicine at the University of Leicester, said: “The report makes seven recommendations, many of which seem obvious, but does not give a huge amount of detail on how these can be implemented and over what timeframe.”

Additional reporting by PA

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