As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, it has become clear that the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community is bearing a disproportionate share of deaths from the virus.
The diversity of society in the UK is something we should be proud of. Nowhere is this more reflected than in the workforce of the NHS; without the contributions of skilled BAME health professionals at every level, the NHS would collapse. This is also true of those who work in older people’s healthcare, whether in hospitals, care homes or in the community. At the BGS, we are proud to have a diverse and multicultural membership and believe our contribution to improving healthcare of older people is the richer for it.
BAME health workers and members of the community have a higher risk in relation to COVID, as this analysis from the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows and the recent report from Public Health England reiterated. This begs the question: what is being done to counter these risk factors and provide protection? Throughout the pandemic, there have been delays in testing and follow-up, inadequate supplies of PPE, and BAME health workers put at risk in the course of doing their jobs. We must also recognise there are deeper long-standing causes based on inequality, which the COVID pandemic is exposing. The BGS supports statements made by the British Medical Association and others, which challenge the status quo and demand concrete action to address this.
More than 90% of the doctors who have died from COVID have been from BAME backgrounds, including, to our great sorrow, three geriatricians; Dr Medhat Atalla, Dr Alfa Sa’adu and Dr Anton Sebastianpillai.
President of the British Geriatrics Society, Professor Tahir Masud, said:
“I honour the memory of those who died doing their clinical duty. It is notable that all three of these fine geriatricians were from a BAME background. I am concerned that the health system should support its workforce equally, and not expose some sections of it to unnecessary risk. I am pleased to hear a new Race and Health Observatory is being set up by the NHS. I hope this will lead to a more systematic approach to collecting data on race and health, better engagement with BAME healthcare workers, and better understanding of how the academic research can inform the response of the NHS and public health system in dealing with historic and current inequalities. But in the immediate term, the BGS calls for proper protection for all staff looking after older people, including our BAME colleagues, who are at an even greater risk of adverse outcomes from COVID.”