Top GP spells out actions to protect BAME staff after PHE review fails to offer solutions

The BMA's top GP has spelled out the advice and support practices need to protect staff after a long-awaited Public Health England (PHE) review confirmed increased death rates from COVID-19 among BAME groups but failed to offer guidance on protecting NHS workers.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: Pete Hill)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: Pete Hill)

The BMA has called the PHE review a 'missed opportunity' to protect BAME staff - with its chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warning that hospitals and GP practices are 'no closer' to being able to safeguard NHS workers following its publication.

Although the report, published on 2 June, confirmed the impact of key factors that increase risk of death from coronavirus including age, gender, comorbidities and other factors as well as ethnicity, it did not produce practical advice.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline it 'didn't take much' to understand what that practical advice should look like.

PHE COVID-19 review

The Leeds GP said: 'The review doesn’t take us any further forward. The information is now well known - what we need is very clear action as to what we are going to do about it. We have still not yet seen in general practice what happens in a situation where risk assessments are done and practices then find they are struggling to provide clinicians to do face-to-face contacts.

'They have identified the problem - we now need a solution put in place to enable practices and practitioners to deliver a safe service. We have known about this problem for weeks - it doesn’t take much to see the solution will require safe working arrangements for individuals at risk and someone to cover work in place of them, and that requires funding.

'We have been pushing for weeks now for the COVID-19 fund to be released from the Treasury to support those practices that are going to find through no fault of their own that they have additional costs to cover as a result of risk assessments.'

Dr Nagpaul called for practical guidance, while British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) chair Dr JS Bamrah labelled the report a ‘damp squib’ - warning the reports findings must be used to 'stop people from dying'.

BAME risk

London GP Dr Onkar Sahota, the Labour party London Assembly health spokesperson, also said it was 'disappointing that PHE has not given the government clear recommendations on the basis of the report’s findings'.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has said the government's equalities minister Kemi Badenoch will 'be leading on this work and taking it forward, working with PHE and others to further understand the impacts'.

PHE regional director for London Professor Kevin Fenton, who led the review, wrote on Twitter: 'I’m looking forward to working with the equalities minister to progress work to further understand the impacts of COVID-19 on BAME communities and prepare a full government response. This important work continues and at pace.'

Doctors' leaders are warning that this next phase must be completed rapidly to protect staff.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The BMA first called for a review at the beginning of April in order to understand why there were such disproportionate deaths and serious illnesses in BAME healthcare workers and in the community, and so that action could be taken to protect them. Two months later, this report is a missed opportunity.

Coronavirus deaths

‘It is a statistical analysis, which while important, gets us no closer towards taking action that avoids harm to BAME communities.

‘More specifically, the report fails to mention the staggering higher proportion of BAME healthcare workers who have tragically died from COVID-19 - with more than 90% of doctors being from BAME backgrounds. We need action, and we need action now.'

The BMA has previously criticised the government for providing a lack of practical advice on how to protect at-risk staff - reporting varied approaches to risk assessments.

Dr Bamrah told Sky News: 'This is an ever changing field, but 90% of the doctors who have died have been from a BAME origin - how do you explain that? I don’t understand where the report is taking us in that sense.

‘We are looking at two different populations where we need to understand the reasons and apply whatever intelligence we have in order to stop these people from dying. So in that sense this report which we were really crying out for has really done us a disservice. It’s a damp squib I’m afraid.'

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