The Philippines’ ambassador to the UK has called for key workers to be “properly protected” after it was claimed Filipinos had the highest death rate of staff across the NHS and care services.
By May 16, the PA news agency had verified the deaths of 173 frontline health and care workers with Covid-19.
Of those, 23 – approximately 13% – were of Filipino heritage.
Among those to have lost their lives were two who died this week — Norman Austria, a healthcare assistant at the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton, and Jun Terre, a nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.
In a message to PA following the deaths, ambassador Antonio Lagdameo said: “I urge the NHS to ensure that those heroes who put their lives on the line for all of us are properly protected and equipped as they do their job.”
Francis Fernando, a nurse and officer for the Filipino Nurses Association UK, said he believes more of his compatriots have died working in the UK health and care system during the crisis than in the Phillippines.
While a lack of reliable data makes it difficult to prove definitively, Mr Fernando believes the community has suffered more deaths in Britain’s health and care sector than any other ethnic group.
Official figures indicate that around 18,500 Filipinos worked in the NHS in England as of March 2019, roughly 1.5% of an estimated 1.2 million total workforce.
The vast majority of those workers were in nursing or clinical support positions, with the Philippines providing more staff in these roles than any other country outside the UK.
“There must be something in our culture that prevents us from speaking out or we feel that we just have to follow the manager’s requests, that we cannot say no,” Mr Fernando told PA.
Few of the BAME staff will say no. It’s our job, we have a duty of care to our patients as nurses and professionals.Francis Fernando, Filipino Nurses Association
“That’s true to the new Filipinos who have arrived here in the UK. Twenty years ago I was like them,” he said, adding that he knew nothing about union representatives or how to effectively raise concerns with management when he first joined the health service.
Mr Fernando, who worked for 19 years in the NHS before moving to a private care home in London, added that the Filipino Nurses Association had heard “a lot of anecdotal stories about BAME staff being hand-picked to work in Covid wards, again without adequate protection”.
“Few of the BAME staff will say no. It’s our job, we have a duty of care to our patients as nurses and professionals. So, unfortunately, they are being put in harm’s way,” he said.
Eleuterio — or “Boy” — Gibela, 68, had worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital as a cleaner since 2003, following his wife Deborah, who had already moved from the Philippines to work there.
He died in the same hospital on March 2 after contracting Covid-19.
Mr Gibela had continued going in despite suffering diabetes and chest problems, both of which would put him at greater risk if he caught the virus.
Mr Gibela’s youngest daughter Kristiana told PA: “My dad would never complain about anything. I know he was a really hard-working man.
“They would ask him to do overtime and cover for someone; my dad would never say no. He was that kind of man.”
Her elder sister Louella said she believes he contracted the virus on his last shift, during which his ward was treating “a lot of Covid patients”.
She said her mother had tried to make arrangements for him to be transferred or sent home, but “he was a very stubborn man” and wanted to finish his day of work.
Louella also echoed the ambassador’s calls for more to be done to protect workers, adding that the Government “could have found better PPE” for staff.
There have been calls for a public inquiry into the number of deaths among black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers from Covid-19, after official statistics showed people from some minority backgrounds were at greater risk of dying after contracting the virus.
The NHS has introduced risk assessments for all BAME staff in the wake of the concerns, and is working with organisations such as Mr Fernando’s to allay fears among staff.
However, he still believes that many are not putting official guidance in to effect, with the group informed of several cases of vulnerable workers being put in high-risk situations by their managers.
In one case, Mr Fernando said he had spoken with a worker in an oncology ward near Covid patients, who had been told to continue working despite being almost seven months pregnant.
He added that it was even more difficult to ensure proper practice in private care homes, citing another example of a nurse with cancer who was told she would be unpaid if she stopped working.
“If she does end up with Covid-19 she’ll die, no questions about that,” he said.