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BAME health matters – a lesson from COVID

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Black Lives Matter BAME staff make up around 20% of the NHS workforce, but according to early figures from the King’s Fund have accounted for 64% of all staff deaths

Sometimes a single event can crystallise a whole lot more. The violent death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, was not an event without precedent in the chequered history of US law enforcement, but its capture on cameraphone, and the slow callous cruelty of the act has proved a cultural tipping point.

Black Lives Matter protests began to draw attention to violent policing, but a butterfly flapping its wings in one city has become a global hurricane, and led to a series of conversations about race across the world. Some of them uncomfortable, but they seem long overdue. In the UK history, political representation and even TV comedy are up for discussion, but struggling for bandwidth amidst this, is an even more pressing issue: the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on BAME communities in the UK.

There is a trend of drawing premature conclusions from COVID data, but the figures on BAME deaths are unambiguous. Analysis from the ONS has shown that patients from BAME groups are twice as likely to die from the virus as white ones.

Amongst NHS workers, the disparities are equally stark. BAME staff make up around 20% of the workforce, but according to early figures from the King’s Fund have accounted for 64% of all NHS staff deaths. This is a scandal.

There are potential explanations for this. BAME people are more likely to be key workers, there are higher rates of type 2 diabetes. But there are also concrning findings from the RCN about BAME staff having less access to PPE. There is work for the NHS to do here to protect staff now, but also to address health inequalities in the future. Black lives matter everywhere now.

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