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Black and minority ethnic (BME) health professionals have reported feeling like they are going “unseen” and “unheard” and believe they are working in unsafe conditions.
A small-scale survey organised by Channel 4 News has found that more than half of BME staff in NHS trusts in England feel additional pressure to work on the coronavirus frontline.
“Many BME are yet again the unseen, unheard, lower class yet many risk their lives to save the nation”
Out of 473 health workers who responded to the poll, 61% felt they had unequal access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
While more than two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported feeling unsafe at work during Covid-19 outbreak, 50% said they did not feel able to speak up about safety in the workplace.
Almost three-quarters (73%) reported that they had no updated risk assessment, or that their risk assessment was inadequate.
Echoing concerns raised to Nursing Times about BME nurses being picked on to work on Covid-19 wards, more than half (56%) of staff who responded to the Channel 4 News survey said they felt pressured into frontline work.
Among the startling comments left by respondents was simply: “Left us to die.”
A second respondent said: “We are sandwiched between being bullied by raising concerns about lack of PPE and continued pressure to work at the frontline.”
While another added: “Many BME are yet again the unseen, unheard, lower class yet many risk their lives to save the nation.”
More than 200 health and social care workers have died in the UK after contracting Covid-19, and concerns have been raised because a disproportionate number have been BME.
The government has commissioned an inquiry to look into the connections between ethnicity and coronavirus risk, the findings of which are expected imminently.
In the meantime, NHS England has instructed trusts to risk-assess BME employers before placing them in an environment where the virus is present.
Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer and Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Labour’s race relations advisor, have now called on the government to issue new guidance to protect BME workers across all industries.
This includes risk assessments to be carried out by employers and the provision of appropriate workplace protection.
The letter read: “It is important that the lessons are learnt from this and swift action is now taken to help mitigate the impact of this virus.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday, Yvonne Coghill, deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing, said the risk assessment regime for BME staff was “essential” and was welcome by the college.
Ms Coghill, who is also director of implemention for the NHS England Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) programme, added: “We know that there are some people who are more at risk than other people and what has been identified clearly by the statistics…is that black and ethnic minority people are among that group of people.
“In the NHS we have a policy, we have some guidance and we’re asking all organisations to risk assess their staff – their frontline staff as well as other staff – to make sure that they are kept safe, that they are shielded and that they are protected from the vagaries of this form of awful, awful virus.
“And I think that it should be that black and ethnic minority people, the absence of firm data about what exactly is going on, should be protected across the board, in all walks of life and in all forms of employment.”
Commenting on the Channel 4 News survey findings, Dr Habib Naqvi, deputy director of WRES at NHS England, said: “NHS organisations and trusts should be prioritising and carrying out risk assessments for their black and minority ethnic staff, and other vulnerable groups, in line with guidance from NHS Employers and obviously although this is only a snapshot survey of some staff, we are continuing to listen to staff.”