Black and minority ethnic (BAME) healthcare staff are being offered specialised assistance following reports that coronavirus deaths among them are disproportionately high, NHS leaders said.
An Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report found that per capita deaths among the black Caribbean population in English hospitals are three times those of white British people.
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said on Friday that NHS staff from BAME backgrounds were being offered specialised assistance.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Prof Powis said he “absolutely recognised” their worries and concerns.
While work is being carried out by Public Health England and universities into why BAME communities are being disproportionately impacted, Prof Powis said the support was being offered now.
“I think it is important we don’t need to wait for that additional data to provide additional support,” he said.
“I know that even in talking today to some of those local leaders that they are absolutely doing that and providing that support.”
National testing co-ordinator Professor John Newton said there was evidence of a “small” but “important” discrepancy when it came to the number of people from BAME backgrounds that had died with coronavirus.
He added: “The statistics do show increased rates in some people from ethnic backgrounds.
“The effects are relatively small, although very important, and we do need to also look at other aspects of the virus.
“There is cause for concern, definitely, and we are talking to NHS England about any advice that should be given based on the data.”
Prof Newton said there was more research to be done on whether the increased presence of certain “underlying health conditions” in some ethnic groups, citing increased diagnosis of diabetes in Asian people, had impacted on the Covid-19 death rate in such populations.
The IFS report suggested that minority groups should have fewer deaths per capita than the white British majority, given the average age profile and geographic locations.
While many minority groups live disproportionately in cities such as London and Birmingham, which have more Covid-19 deaths, most are also younger on average than the population as a whole, which should make them less vulnerable.
But the study found that after accounting for differences in age, sex and geography, black Caribbean deaths are still 1.7 times those of white British, Pakistani deaths are 2.7 times as high, and black African fatalities 3.5 times higher.
Ross Warwick, a research economist at IFS, said: “Hospital deaths show clear disparities between ethnic groups in their mortality from Covid-19.
Hospital deaths show clear disparities between ethnic groups in their mortality from #coronavirus.— Institute for Fiscal Studies (@TheIFS) May 1, 2020
IFS researchers and @plattlucinda also find striking differences in economic vulnerability as different ethnic groups face the pandemic.https://t.co/MrV7zS6a7U pic.twitter.com/samZDECnfU
“However, when you account for the fact that most minority groups are relatively young overall, the number of deaths looks disproportionate in most ethnic minority groups.”
The type of jobs where BAME workers are disproportionately represented also had an impact on their exposure to the virus or its economic consequences.
More than 20% of black African women of working age are employed in health and social care roles.
Pakistani men are 90% more likely to work in healthcare roles than their white British counterparts and while the Indian ethnic group makes up just 3% of the working age population of England and Wales, they account for 14% of doctors.
Another possible factor behind disproportionately high death rates could be underlying health problems – two-thirds of Bangladeshi men aged over 60 have a long-term condition that would put them at particular risk from infection.
Meanwhile, concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on BAME medics and carer staff has led NHS England to identify them as being at potentially greater risk.
Professor Tim Cook, honorary professor in anaesthesia at the University of Bristol, said: “The disproportionately high number of BAME health and social care workers dying from Covid-19 is striking, so I welcome news that NHS England has recommended these individuals to be identified as potentially at greater risk.
“Our analysis showed 63% of healthcare workers who have died from coronavirus were BAME individuals.”