NHS chiefs have encouraged practices to make ‘appropriate arrangements’ on a ‘precautionary basis’ to protect BAME staff in advance of further guidance from Public Health England (PHE).
Potential measures that could be taken could include BAME staff judged to be at increased risk 'working remotely or in a lower-risk area', according to a letter sent to GPs by NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.
The call for risk assessments comes after doctors warned that urgent action was needed to protect frontline BAME staff, with the British International Doctors’ Association (BIDA) accusing the government of a ‘complete lack of action’.
BAME COVID-19 risk
The NHS England letter - which outlines details of the second-phase NHS response to COVID-19 - said: ‘Emerging UK and international data suggest that people from BAME backgrounds are also being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
‘PHE have been asked by the DHSC to investigate this. In advance of their report and guidance, on a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk-assess staff at potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.’
The document added that practices should continue to assess all staff who may be at increased risk, including older colleagues, retired doctors returning to the workforce, staff who are pregnant and those with underlying health conditions.
Under plans for the second phase of the NHS response to the pandemic general practice has been asked to continue to 'stratify and proactively contact' high-risk patients with ongoing care needs.
Sir Simon said this would include speaking with those in the ‘shielding’ cohort to ensure they can access care and are receiving medications.
Data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre suggests that over a third of critically ill COVID-19 patients are from BAME backgrounds, while NHS figures show that 16% of all hospital deaths in England were in people who are BAME - despite this group making up only around 14% of the UK population.
The government has promised to investigate disproportionate BAME deaths, but doctors have argued that progress has been too slow. BIDA national chairman Dr Chandra Kanneganti told GPonline a special task force could help to speed up research.
Somerset NHS Foundation Trust was the first organisation to include all of its BAME staff in the vulnerable and at risk group. In a letter seen by GPonline, it asked managers to ensure that all BAME staff were allowed to wear FFP3 masks and to prioritise testing for NHS workers who are BAME and their families.
Reports have suggested that between 60% and 70% of frontline health and social care workers in England and Wales who have lost their lives in the pandemic have been from BAME communities, while six BAME GPs have now died.