Older BAME doctors should not work in high-risk areas during pandemic, warns BMA

The BMA has warned that older and retired black and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors should avoid working in infectious settings, as the government launched an inquiry into why BAME communities appear to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the government needed to take steps immediately to protect BAME communities
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the government needed to take steps immediately to protect BAME communities

The BMA, which called on the government to investigate the high level of deaths among healthcare workers from a BAME background last weekend, welcomed the review. However, its chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that steps needed to be taken immediately to protect BAME communities 'until we can develop a detailed understanding of the threats they face'.

'This could include that those at greatest risk, including older and retired doctors, are not working in potentially infectious settings,' he added.

The majority of healthcare workers who have died from COVID-19 appear to have come from a BAME background, including the three GPs who have died during the pandemic.

On Thursday health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that there had been 27 deaths of NHS staff from COVID-19, however media reports have put the figure significantly higher. Analysis of figures by Sky News this week suggested that 54 frontline healthcare staff have died in England and Wales from COVID-19 and 70% of these staff had a BAME background.

Speaking to ITV on Thursday Mr Hancock said: 'We have seen, both across the population as a whole but in those who work in the NHS, a much higher proportion who've died from minority backgrounds and that really worries me.

'I pay tribute to the work they've done, including those who were born here, moved here, and given that service to the NHS. It's a really important thing that we must try to fully understand.'

Statistics on ethnicity

The BMA also called on the government to publish details of the ethnicity of patients who die from COVID-19 in its daily figures.

Dr Nagpaul said: 'If the review is to have any meaningful impact, it needs to be informed with real-time data to understand why and how this deadly virus can have such a tragic disproportionate toll on our BAME communities and healthcare workers.

'This must include daily updates on ethnicity, circumstance and all protected characteristics of all patients in hospital as well as levels of illness in the community, which is not currently recorded.

'The government must take every necessary step to address this devastating disparity and protect all sectors of the population equally and now. That is why the government must send a directive to every hospital telling them to record the ethnicity of patients who are admitted and succumb to COVID-19 immediately.'

Downing Street confirmed that the review would be led by NHS England and Public Health England.

The Labour Party said that the government must ensure the review was robust and looked at 'the underlying structural economic and social inequalities that have affected BAME communities in this crisis'. It also backed calls for details on the ethnicity of patients who have died from COVID-19 to be made publicly available.

GP deaths

Essex GP Dr Fayez Ayache and Dagenham, London GP Dr Syed Zishan Haider joined the growing list of health professionals who have died during the pandemic last week. Dr Ayache, 76, who worked at the North Clacton Medical Group and had been employed within the NHS in Essex and Suffolk for more than 40 years, died on 8 April after being diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19.

79-year-old GP Dr Haider passed away at Queen’s Hospital in Romford on 6 April after failing to recover from the virus. The Dagenham GP was a senior partner at Valence Medical Centre and had worked as a doctor for over 50 years.

Their deaths follow the death of 76-year-old Essex GP Dr Habib Zaidi, who became the first UK doctor to die after contracting coronavirus on 25 March.

Dr Zaidi, a managing partner at the Eastwood Group Practice in Leigh-on-Sea - where his wife Talat and daughter Sarah are also GPs - died at Southend Hospital, in Essex, 24 hours after becoming ill on 24 March.

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