Call to understand health inequality

by Peter Blackburn

Government must discover why COVID took a higher toll on ethnic minorities

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 4 July 2023
Terry John arm 2023

The Government ‘must revive from its sloth, its sleep and its slumber’ and take action on health inequalities exposed by the COVID pandemic, the ARM agreed.

Doctors at the BMA annual representative meeting on 3 July accused ministers of being ‘extremely slow’ in investigating why the pandemic had a disproportionate effect on people from BAME backgrounds, and urged focus on the treatment and management of ethnic minority patients and NHS doctors.

Proposing the motion, London GP Terry John (pictured above), said the Government had been ‘complacent’. He said: ‘We may have another pandemic on the way – we must be better. We must let the message go out today. The Government must revive from its sloth, its sleep and its slumber and address this issue on behalf of our multi-ethnic society and our multi-ethnic doctors and patients.’


Slow to act

Dr John said evidence suggested Black and Asian individuals were more likely to have confirmed infection, hospitalisation and worse mortality.

He added: ‘Investigators have tried to identify the reasons for this. Could it be frontline key worker status? Bus drivers, mini cab drivers, cleaning staff and health and social care workers. Could it be socio-economic circumstances? Poverty, reliance on public transport and the need to go to work increased risk of transmission and vulnerability. Could it be pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Could it be other inequalities such as employment issues, access to universal credit, housing problems to do with overcrowding and multi-generational problems? These are the questions before us, and the Government has been extremely slow in addressing them.’

An overwhelmingly high proportion of doctors whose deaths were associated with the pandemic were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Dr John said: ‘Again there’s speculation. Is it co-morbidities among these doctors, is it lack of availability of PPE which is particularly affecting doctors? Is it poor shielding for vulnerable colleagues. We do not have the complete answers.

'We, the BMA, must exert pressure on the Government to do more – more targeted research to find out exactly the link between ethnicity and severity of COVID, more assessment of the importance of workplace environment, more appreciation of long-standing pre-COVID inequalities in healthcare delivery between ethic and non-ethnic communities and more work on the presence of long-COVID in ethnic minority communities.’


GP guidance

Kent GP Zishan Syed supported the motion and urged representatives to ‘protect our staff’ by lobbying the Government to take action.

Dr Syed said he felt ‘disappointed’ with the guidance GPs were given around protection during the pandemic and the failure to supply FFP3 masks to staff.

Doctors’ representatives also voted at the meeting in Liverpool to demand the Government pursues the politicians, companies, corporations and individuals responsible to the loss of ‘at least nine billion pounds’ during the pandemic through corrupt contracts, overinflated prices and the purchase of substandard personal protection equipment.