Delayed risk assessments may have cost BAME doctors' lives, BMA chair warns

Delayed risk assessments may have contributed to disproportionate deaths among doctors from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds during the pandemic, the BMA chair has warned.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Dr Chaand Nagpaul told GPonline that inadequate PPE and a fear of speaking out were also factors that may have contributed to higher numbers of BAME clinicians dying from COVID-19.

His comments came after around one in six of 2,000 BAME doctors responding to a BBC poll last month said that they had not yet been risk assessed, while over a quarter said no action had been taken following an assessment.

The failure to complete risk assessments for many BAME medical staff comes despite advice from NHS England at the start of the pandemic highlighting 'emerging data' that suggested increased risk for people from BAME backgrounds and urging employers to 'risk-assess staff at potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly'.

Risk assessment

Dr Nagpaul said the pandemic had acted as a catalyst to give a voice to BAME clinicians who have suffered ‘disadvantage and discrimination’ for decades. The north London GP pointed to the BMA's newly-established BAME forum - launched in July - and said the group would work to address the ‘root causes’ of the issues faced by minority ethnic doctors during the pandemic.

Of 16 GPs known to have died from COVID-19, all but two were from BAME backgrounds, despite BAME GPs making up 31% of the workforce according to NHS Digital figures. BMA research shows that 63% of healthcare workers overall and a staggering 95% of doctors who have died from COVID-19 were from BAME groups.

Numerous BMA surveys conducted during the pandemic have revealed how issues experienced by doctors during the pandemic have been exacerbated among those from ethnic minority groups.

Only four out of 10 BAME GPs told the BMA that they had sufficient PPE to allow safe contact with patients - compared with seven out of 10 for doctors who identified as white.

BAME doctors

Another survey found that BAME doctors were almost three times more likely than white colleagues to say that they hadn’t spoken out about a problem because they feared the consequences.

Reflecting on the problems encountered by BAME doctors and disproportionate deaths Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The pandemic has acted as a catalyst to give a voice to BAME doctors who have suffered disadvantage and discrimination within the NHS for decades.

‘The BAME forum was created in response to a call from grassroots doctors last summer from both regions and some LMCs following the alarmingly disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic healthcare workers, with nearly nine in 10 doctors who tragically lost their life to COVID-19 having come from a BAME background.

‘We believe that problems with inadequate PPE, a fear of speaking out among ethnic minority doctors and delays in undertaking risk assessments likely played a part in this tragedy.

Protecting health staff

‘The BMA BAME forum is looking to address these root causes including through challenging an NHS workplace culture that works against ethnic minority doctors, bringing this into the open and working with those in authority to make positive change.’

A Public Health England (PHE) investigation revealed in June that safeguards to protect staff working in health and care services 'were not applied equally’ across ethnic groups.

In February the BMA called upon the NHS to introduce an effective system of risk assessment for all doctors to ensure they can work in a way that minimises risk to themselves and patients.

A tribute to the GPs who have died from COVID-19 can be found here.

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