Coronavirus: Government to launch review into disproportionate impact on Bame communities

Expert report on the first 3,883 patients critically ill with coronavirus found that more than a third were non-white

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 16 April 2020 14:09 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

The government will launch a formal review into the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds, Downing Street has confirmed.

NHS bosses will consider evidence that Bame patients are more likely to die from Covid-19, following growing concern over whether certain communities are being disproportionately affected by the disease.

Asked if there was going to be a review, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “Yes, that work is going to happen.

“We have asked the NHS and Public Health England to be in the lead.”

It comes after calls from Labour for a probe into why people from ethnic minorities might be more vulnerable to the disease, following a “deeply disturbing” number of deaths of Bame doctors.

A report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre on the first 3,883 patients critically ill with coronavirus found that over a third were non-white (33.6 per cent), compared with 18 per cent of the UK population.

The first 10 UK doctors who died from the coronavirus were all from Bame backgrounds. About 44 per cent of NHS medical staff are from ethnic minorities.

The medics who have died so far include Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a 53-year-old urologist from east London, Amged El-Hawrani, a 55-year-old consultant in the Midlands, Sudanese organ transplant consultant Adil El Tayar, 63, and 68-year-old Dr Alfa Saadu, who returned from retirement to help out at a hospital in Hertfordshire.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association, has led calls for a review into the disproportionate numbers of deaths among doctors from a Bame background.

“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,” he previously told The Guardian.

“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.”

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said it was “absolutely critical” to find out which groups of people were most at risk from coronavirus, but said that it was "less clear" that ethnicity was a factor than it was for age, sex and pre-existing medical conditions.

He told a Downing Street press conference that more than 90% of people who have died with coronavirus in the UK had at least one other disease, while other factors included age and male sex.

“Being a member of an ethnic minority group is less clear, and I’ve had discussions with scientists about this in terms of trying to tease this apart today," said Prof Whitty.

“This is something we are very keen to get extremely clear. We’ve asked Public Health England to look at this in some detail and then what we really want is, if we see any signal at all, we want to then know what next we can do about it to minimise risk.”

Marsha de Cordova, the shadow women and equalities secretary, welcomed the review but asked for further details on whether it will be independent and when it will be concluded.

She said: “The government must ensure the review is robust and looks into the underlying structural economic and social inequalities that have affected Bame communities in this crisis. It must also urgently record data broken down by ethnicity on the number of people who have died as a result of Covid-19.

“The devastating effect of Covid-19 on Bame communities cannot be overstated. This review must be the first step in ensuring that all communities are equally protected from this virus.”

Meanwhile, a recent poll for The Independent revealed that people from Bame backgrounds were being hit harder by lockdown measures, with Bame households almost twice as likely as white Britons to report having lost income and jobs.

Pollsters BMG found that 46 per cent of Bame people said that their household income had reduced as a result of coronavirus, against 28 per cent of white British families.

Around 15 per cent of respondents from ethnic minorities said they had lost their job, compared with 8 per cent of white Britons.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in