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By British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT)

Minister says BAME workers could be asked to step back from NHS frontline amid fears coronavirus having disproportionate impact

NHS staff outside the Royal Derby Hospital.

2 min read

The Government will do “whatever it takes” to protect black, asian and minority ethnic NHS staff from the coronavirus, Cabinet minister Robert Buckland has declared, as hospital leaders were advised to reallocate staff who may be disproportionately hit by the disease.

The Justice Secretary said ministers would “support any decision made upon the clinical evidence”, after NHS England wrote to hospital bosses telling them to “risk-assess” staff at greater risk from Covid-19, including those from BAME communities.

While people from a BAME background make up just 14% cent of the UK population, they account for a third (34%) of virus patients admitted to hospital critical care units, according to research by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre. 

The latest NHS England figures meanwhile show that BAME people accounted for 16% of all hospital deaths in England up to the third week of April.

“We take all evidence like that very seriously indeed" - Justice Secretary Robert Buckland

In a letter to healthcare leaders, seen by the Health Service Journal, NHS England says: “Emerging UK and international data suggests that people from BAME backgrounds are... being disproportionately affected by covid-19. Public Health England have been asked by the Department of Health and Social Care to investigate this.”

The body adds: “In advance of their report and guidance, on a precautionary basis, we commend employers should risk-assess staff at potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.”

Asked by Sky News’ Kay Burley whether ministers would move BAME workers back from the NHS frontline, Mr Buckland said on Thursday: “We take all evidence like that very seriously indeed.”

He added: “I think the decision-making as to how we deploy staff will be for NHS England... In this crisis we’ve said that we would follow the science and the evidence, as you’ve mentioned, is very important and powerful evidence and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect people and people who have a particular vulnerability to this disease deserve protection. 

“So we’re taking that very seriously.”

And the Justice Secretary said: “I think we’d support any decision made upon the clinical evidence. Obviously that’s a matter for the management within the NHS.“

The latest NHS workforce statistics show that one in five (20.7%) of the NHS’s 1.2 million staff in England are from a BAME background.

The Government this month ordered a review into the the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 among BAME people, although the inquiry has come under fire from some quarters over the decision to appoint former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips - who has attracted controversy over comments he made on Islam - as its head.

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