Why are more people from BAME backgrounds dying from coronavirus? (BBC)

December 10, 2020

During the first wave of the pandemic, it became clear that BAME communities had a higher rate of both contracting COVID-19 and experiencing health complications and subsequent death. Data in June showed that Black people were 1.9 times more likely to die than their white counterparts, compared to 1.8 times for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani community, and 1.5 times for the Indian community. In particular, there was a growing number of health professionals and NHS workers from BAME backgrounds who lost their lives while caring for those affected by COVID-19.

Some of the reasons for this disparity may include:

  • Differences in occupation (e.g. key workers)
  • Differences in income
  • Discrimination in the workplace (e.g. lack of PPE, bullying of BAME staff)
  • Access to healthcare
  • Differences in the prevalence of long-term health conditions (e.g. diabetes, heart disease)
  • Differences in the living conditions (e.g. overcrowded conditions, multiple generations in a household)

Food for Thought

What could have been done to prevent the number of BAME healthcare professionals that lost their lives?

With a new and emerging illness, there is often very little prior information on how it will affect different demographics of people. Therefore, nobody could have predicted how the pandemic would impact people of BAME backgrounds. However, once the initial data pointed towards a higher risk of complications within the BAME communities, more could have been done to protect these healthcare professionals. While the government was adamant that there was adequate PPE, individual doctors on the frontline had a different experience. Could the Government have acted faster to respond to shortages of PPE? Why do you think some BAME health workers were hesitant to report the inadequate PPE they received? As individual trusts also have a duty of care towards their staff, what else could they have done to protect their workers?

What is the root cause of this disparity?

We know that the virus itself is not racist and does not target BAME populations. However, the social and political landscape may make BAME populations an easier target for the virus. To protect these populations in future, there needs to be work done to dismantle the structural racism that makes BAME communities more likely to have low paying jobs and receive lower income. This negatively impacts their health as by having less money, people are more likely to:

  • work in jobs that increase their exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. transport, retail)
  • work unsociable hours, affecting when they can access healthcare
  • not feel empowered to raise issues at work for fear of losing their job
  • live in overcrowded conditions where the spread of disease is greater

Do you think differences in income is the underlying cause of this disparity? Why may someone disagree? Do you think the root cause of this problem is political, social or economic in nature? What could be done to tackle this huge inequality - think on a local (individual hospitals/trusts) and national (Government/NHS) level?

Practice Interview QUestions
  1. Do you know of any discrimination in medicine and how would you tackle it?
  2. If your friend came to you with allegations of a racial slur used by a consultant in private, what would you do?
  3. What is your view on the high number of BAME healthcare professionals that died from COVID?
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