‘Buried’ report says racism may be a factor behind BAME people dying of coronavirus

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A damning report has pinpointed racism as a possible factor behind more Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people dying from coronavirus.

The Public Health England study is based on conversations with more than 4,000 people from the worlds of health, government, faith, business, academia and the wider community.

In 17 sessions since the pandemic struck, researchers asked those people why they thought BAME people were more likely to die of Covid-19.

In response many pointed to “racism and discrimination” as a “root cause affecting health, and exposure risk and disease progression risk.”

Critics have accused today’s report of being “buried” after it took two weeks longer to publish than an initial PHE report on BAME people.

But a PHE spokeswoman insisted the two reports were separate, and the final version of today’s report was only submitted to Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch today.

Today’s report summarises the responses from sessions with 4,000 people.

It warns: “Stakeholders expressed deep dismay, anger, loss and fear in their communities about the emerging data and realities of BAME groups being harder hit by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, exacerbating existing inequalities.

“In their view, COVID-19 did not create health inequalities.

“Rather the pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME communities in the UK.”

Among concerns from stakeholders were the effects of “hostile environments against immigrants, particularly failed asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants”.

The report said these policies “might affect settled BAME populations adversely through heightened prejudice and societal tensions.”

It added many BAME communities had a “lack of trust” in NHS services, or a fear of being diagnosed, which meant people were reluctant to seek help.

“Others were also fearful of being deported if they presented to hospital,” the study added.

And “historic racism” could mean BAME individuals are less likely to seek care when needed, or speak up about inadequate protective equipment.”

Labour had accused today’s study of being “buried” after a partial draft version of it leaked last week, and a previous PHE report on BAME people was published two weeks ago.

PHE insisted the version that was leaked on the weekend was a draft, and the final version was only formally submitted today.

Campaigners and unions said now that it’s been published, today’s report must be a wake-up call.

The Government was accused of holding back today’s second PHE report when the first report on BAME outcomes was published at the start of June.

That first PHE study found Brits of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death as white Brits. And people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and black ethnicity had a 10% to 50% higher risk of death.

Today Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha De Cordova said: “This report provides even more evidence of the structural and racial inequalities which have led to the Covid-19 pandemic hitting BAME communities across the UK so very hard.

“These recommendations should never have been blocked in the first place.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government’s failure to release the PHE data and recommendations together was a huge mistake.

“It’s caused further mistrust and damage to the Black community at a time when people need reassurance, not dither, delay and excuses.”

Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran added: “It is astonishing that the government chose to sit on this report for two weeks and had to be shamed into publishing it.

“It shines a light on how discrimination and structural racism have been a root cause behind the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities.” 

The first PHE study – which triggered a review for BAME people in government – did not make formal recommendations.

However, today’s newly-published second study does make recommendations.

The British Medical Association (BMA) had previously claimed recommendations were been “omitted” from the first report. A PHE official denied this.

In today’s recommendations, stakeholders called for immediate action in areas such as housing to reduce inequalities.

And they called for “targeted messaging on smoking, obesity and improving management of common conditions including hypertension and diabetes”.

Other recommendations include:

The report did not look at whether genetics plays a role in BAME risk. 

The report concluded: “Ethnic inequalities in health and wellbeing in the UK existed before Covid-10.

“The pandemic has made these disparities more apparent and undoubtedly exacerbated them.

“The unequal impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities may be explained by a number of factors ranging from social and economic inequalities, racism, discrimination and stigma, occupational risk, inequalities in the prevalence of conditions that increase the severity of disease including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma.

“Unpacking the relative contributions made by different factors is challenging as they do not all act independently.

“The engagement sessions highlighted the BAME group’s deep concern and anxiety that, if lessons are not learnt from this initial phase of the epidemic, future waves of the disease could again have severe and disproportionate impacts.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This report sets out the scale of the structural racism that BME people continue to face. It should never have been withheld.

“Ministers must now act to prevent more unnecessary coronavirus deaths among BME communities.

“We need a fully funded action plan to tackle the structural racism that continues to blight BME people’s life chances and health.”

Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive at the Health Foundation, added: “There is clear evidence that COVID-19 is taking a greater toll on people in BME communities.

“Today’s important report summarises this evidence, the reasons underpinning it, and the shock and dismay that is being felt in black and minority ethnic communities.

“COVID-19 is having a disproportionate and detrimental impact, and discrimination is a key factor.”

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