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A new national centre is to be set up to specifically investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on patient health and the NHS workforce, which has been put in “stark” relief by Covid-19.
NHS England and the NHS Confederation said the NHS Race and Health Observatory will identify and tackle the challenges facing people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.
“The coronavirus pandemic has injected stark urgency into the need for more action”
Sir Simon Stevens
The move comes amid “significant concerns” about the “particular impact” of Covid-19 on people from BAME backgrounds, noted NHS England.
Tracking of Covid-19 deaths by the media, including Nursing Times, has indicated that more BAME people have died during the coronavirus pandemic than people from other backgrounds.
These concerns led ministers to instruct Public Health England to investigate the health inequalities faced by BAME people during the pandemic, with its findings expected to be published imminently.
Emerging evidence from a number of studies has also highlighted being from a BAME background as being among the risk factors for developing severe Covid-19 or dying from it.
In addition, concern has focused on the high mortality rate among BAME health and care staff, compared to white colleagues, with particular warnings they may have been exposed to greater risk.
The observatory will involve academics from both the UK and overseas and will be hosted by the NHS Confederation, which represents health service organisations like trusts.
The independent body’s first action will be to establish a steering group and will aim to be fully established this year.
The centre will offer analysis and policy recommendations to improve health outcomes for NHS patients, communities and staff.
Its creation was announced in principle during February at an event on race and the NHS, where findings from the 2019 Workplace Racial Equality Standard (WRES) report were revealed.
The report said nurses from BAME backgrounds represented the “highest proportion” of NHS staff to say they were being discriminated against and bullied in the workplace.
It also revealed that the percentage of BME staff experiencing harassment or bullying or being personally discriminated against was at an all-time high.
On a more positive note, it showed a significant increase in representation of BAME people at board level across the country.
Prerana Issar, chief people officer at NHS England, said: “Addressing health inequalities needs a concerted effort from all of us.
“This means facing up to how we can tackle the health inequalities that Covid-19 has brought into stark relief, which is why the race observatory is an important step.”
“This has the potential to be a step-change towards a new era of greater equality”
Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of the NHS Confederation, said the new centre had the “potential to be a step-change towards a new era of greater equality”.
“The impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic communities and healthcare staff has shone the brightest of lights on racial inequalities and their root causes,” he noted.
“The NHS Race and Health Observatory will be critical in identifying and helping to transform the disproportionate effects that race is having on patients, communities and NHS staff.”
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Ethnicity and race have been shown systematically to influence our health, independent of factors such as age, sex, and socio-economic status.
“The coronavirus pandemic has injected stark urgency into the need for more action to both understand and tackle deep-seated and longstanding health inequalities facing people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
“The health service has to both listen and lead as part of the solution,” he said. “This new centre will therefore bring together expertise to offer practical, useful suggestions for change.”
Yvonne Coghill, director of WRES at NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “An enormous amount of work has been done to improve the experiences of BME staff in the NHS.
“But we need to do more to become a fully inclusive, equitable and fair employer. The founding of the NHS Race and Health Observatory marks a significant step forward in achieving this,” she said.
“Whilst understanding the issue is vital, it is also imperative that we now make real changes to address this and ensure race equality for our patients, communities and staff.”
To commemorate the nursing staff who have lost their lives during the pandemic, Nursing Times has created a dedicated memorial page, including a list of names and map that are regularly updated.