NHS England has instructed employers to risk assess all staff from BAME groups to decide whether they should see patients face-to-face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guidance was updated after a Public Health England (PHE) report found that people from BAME backgrounds faced a two- to three-times higher risk of death. BMA records of doctors who have lost their lives after contracting COVID-19 show that more than 90% are from BAME backgrounds.
But a BMA poll of 7,497 doctors working in the UK found that 36% were not aware of any risk assessment in their place of work. Just 11% said they personally had been risk assessed.
BAME COVID-19 risk
The survey revealed that just 29% of BAME doctors feel fully protected from coronavirus compared with 46% among their white colleagues.
BAME clinicians were also more likely to feel pressured into treating patients without the proper protective equipment (PPE). A total of 39% of BAME doctors said they often or sometimes felt pressured to treat patients without proper PPE, compared to 19% among white doctors.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It is extremely troubling that more than a third of BAME doctors still say they are not aware of any risk assessments at their workplace.
‘Equally disturbing is the fact that BAME colleagues are nearly three times more likely to report feeling regularly pressured to treat patients despite not having the right level of protection.
At-risk NHS staff
‘While the NHS has listened to calls by the BMA to direct all providers to risk assess healthcare workers who are most at risk, it is clear there is still much work to be done to properly mitigate against the risks faced by BAME staff.’
Dr Nagpaul said it was vital for staff to be risk assessed so those at high risk can be redeployed to areas where they are less at risk or work remotely. He also repeated calls for a national tool for risk assessments to ensure consistency.
‘The BMA has previously highlighted how BAME staff can be less confident in raising concerns and more fearful of being blamed if something goes wrong. Employers must ensure that these doctors are fully supported in coming forward and speaking out,' he said.
‘Ultimately, it is crucial that lessons are learned from this pandemic - especially with the risk of a second wave - so that we act to ensure that the colour of your skin does not dictate your chance of survival,' he added.
In May the BMA highlighted concerns about variation in local approaches to risk assessment - arguing that the protection of doctors should not come down to a ‘postcode lottery'.
The warning came after over half of respondents in a previous BMA poll said they were not aware of any risk assessment in their place of work.
PHE’s report into COVID disparities found that safeguards to protect staff working in health and care services 'were not applied equally across ethnic groups' - reflecting 'a fundamental break in trust between employers and organisations'.