COVID-19 death rate highest among BAME groups, delayed PHE review confirms

Death rates from COVID-19 are highest among patients from BAME groups, according to a delayed Public Health England (PHE) investigation that reveals the pandemic has replicated and increased existing health inequalities.

BAME groups face increased COVID-19 risk (Photo: Robin Gentry/Getty Images)
BAME groups face increased COVID-19 risk (Photo: Robin Gentry/Getty Images)

The review found that the largest disparity in deaths overall was by age, with patients aged over 80 years old diagnosed with coronavirus 70 times more likely to die than those aged under 40.

Men have been significantly more likely to die from the virus than women - accounting for 46% of diagnosed cases, but almost 60% of deaths from COVID-19 and 70% of admissions to intensive care.

Mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas in the UK have been more than double those in the least deprived areas, for both men and women, the review found - widening the inequality gap compared with previous years.

BAME risk

People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British people, the PHE review confirmed, with people of Bangladeshi ethnicity facing around twice the risk of death compared with people of White British ethnicity.

Comorbidities are also strongly linked to increased risk of death from COVID-19, the review found - with higher rates of these conditions among BAME groups potentially linked to higher rates of death.

The PHE review found that among reported COVID-19 deaths 'a higher percentage mentioned diabetes, hypertensive diseases, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia than all cause death certificates'.

The review has also laid bare the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on care homes - with 20,457 excess deaths between 20 March and 7 May - 2.3 times the expected number over this period.

Care homes

On 10 April 2020, deaths in care homes accounted for just 10% of all COVID-19 deaths in the UK - but by the week ending 8 May this had surged to 43%.

Speaking in the House of Commons as the review was published, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: 'I want to update the House on the work we are doing to understand the unequal and disproportionate way that this disease targets people, including those who are from black or ethnic minority backgrounds.

'This is very timely work. People are understandably angry about injustices and as health secretary I feel a deep responsibility because this pandemic has exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation. It is very clear that some people are significantly more vulnerable to COVID-19 and this is something I’m determined to understand in full and take action to address.'

The health and social care secretary highlighted increased risk linked to occupations that 'involve dealing with the public in an enclosed place, such as taxi driving' - and said that the data showed people working in hospitals 'were not more likely to catch or die from COVID-19'.

He added: 'This work underlines that being black, or being from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor. This racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of age, deprivation, region and sex.

'The PHE ethnicity analysis did not adjust for factors such as comorbidities and obesity. So there is much more work to do to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what we can do to close the gap.

'I want to thank PHE for this work. I’m determined that we continue to develop our understanding and shape our response. And I’m pleased to announce that the equalities minister will be leading on this work and taking it forward, working with PHE and others to further understand the impacts.'

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