EXCLUSIVE. Here’s the claim: Racial discrimination is the key cause of the proportionally far greater number of black and minority National Health Service workers dying during the Covid virus pandemic. That’s what a major British broadcaster, ITV News, alleged. However, this claim was based on specious facts and misleading figures. Correspondent.world explains.

15 May 2020 By Paul Martin

“The government has not published an official breakdown of NHS deaths by ethnicity, but ITV News’ analysis,” says the ITV website, “found that the number of BAME NHS staff who died in England, was seven times higher than white workers.”

[BAME stands for British, Asian and Minority Ethnic. It makes more sense to break these down into BAME’s different components, and then to look at who are living in the UK with their families and who are not, and/or who are born in the UK or immigrated, or are here temporarily.]

That’s a statement no-one has been able to back up, though the Office of National Statistics has suggested that black BAME people in the UK overall population have died from Covid four times more often in proportion to whites, but that when socio-economic comparisons are made (up to April 10), that figure comes down to less than double.

See this:

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/coronavirusrelateddeathsbyethnicgroupenglandandwales/2march2020to10april2020

After taking account of age and other socio-demographic characteristics and measures of self-reported health and disability at the 2011 Census, the risk of a COVID-19-related death for males and females of Black ethnicity reduced to 1.9 times more likely than those of White ethnicity.

Similarly, males in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic group were 1.8 times more likely to have a COVID-19-related death than White males when age and other socio-demographic characteristics and measures of self-reported health and disability were taken into account; for females, the figure was 1.6 times more likely.

These results show that the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.

Now returning to the accusation of racial discrimination: Apart from anecdotes, the only claim (from a knowledgeable source) of any serious medical concern about racism or, to put it more politely, “discrimination”, was this:

The BMA [British Medical Association] chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told ITV News: “Our own BMA survey’s [sic] of the past have shown bullying and harassment of doctors and ethnic minority doctors to be much greater than white doctors,” he is quoted as saying.

There is no effort shown by ITV News to get hold of this supposed doctors’ survey, nor is it clear that this survey compare this “harassment and bullying” with that faced by ethnically white doctors.

ITV took no steps to check whether any discrimination had actually taken place. All that ITV News did was to send out a list of questions to various organisations, most of which, says ITV News, represented blacks and Minorities.

It is hardly surprising that, in their answers, many BAME National Health Service (NHS) employees will have blamed racism. It would be an obvious way to reflect their deep alarm at what is undoubtedly true: BAME people are dying from the pandemic in greater numbers than whites. But as we know, that has been happening not just in the NHS, which employs 1.48 million people, but also across the UK’s general population of 66 million.

There are numerous factors – and ‘discrimination’ is only one of a number of things needing investigation.

One (ethnically white) nurse told correspondent.world: “We think one reason nurses coming from third world countries to work in our NHS may be getting it in larger numbers is simple: they tend to want to work much longer hours. That’s because you get double pay per hour when you work beyond your official hours. Unlike us, many of them are sending money out of the country to support their poor families back home.”

There was no effort made by ITV News to compare like with like. For example a much more interesting ‘survey’ would be: Are white nurses in Covid-19 wards dying less frequently in proportion to the BAME nurses in the same wards? If these figures show a lower proportion of white nurses’ deaths than BAME nurses’ deaths, it would indicate that racism is not a relevant explanation.

[NOTE: In other words, British nurses working in the same wards (white or BAME) are presumed to have similar pay and therefore similar socio-economic opportunities. So any significant difference between the ethnic groups’ propensities to die from Covid could indicate factors rather than racism as such.]

Factors that are likely to have a real effect are:

* is there a greater prevalence of overweight, or

* are there different views about taking risks, or

* is there a greater propensity to certain ‘underlying’ diseases, or

* are there different patterns of living – e.g. multi-generational households?

None of this was investigated. Instead, an unnamed consultant paediatrician told the ITV News ‘survey’ that differences in relative death tolls within the NHS all boiled down to “systemic discrimination at the frontline” of the fight against coronavirus. 

To suggest that some BAME communities may in fact be medically “predisposed” to be affected by this particular illness is itself apparently racist, according to one of the two main guests on the Sunday Programme of BBC Radio 4 on May 17, speaking at 29 minutes into the link, onwards.

“Anxieties are real experiences,” the Reverend Dr Alfred Banyer, head of chaplaincy at the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, ludicrously put forward as ‘real evidence’ for his claim.

Robert Beckford, professor of Theology at Queen’s Ecumenical Foundation in Birmingham, opined: “Being predisposed… might be [only] a small part of it.” How does he know how big or small a factor this is?

After all, we do know that different ethnic groups are indeed predisposed to a greater proportion of some illnesses: for example sickle cell anaemia in black people, and Tay Sachs in European Jews. (And by the way Jews in England have been dying from Covid-19 at far greater rates than the average). Why sweep any of this under the carpet? It is medical not racist.

Interestingly the ITV News website, in its text version, is actually more careful about what it claims, than in its sensationalist special report carried on the main television news programmes.

” ‘Discrimination’ on frontline of coronavirus outbreak may be factor in disproportionate BAME deaths among NHS staff,” is the website headline. But here is what the video the ITV News website carries.

https://www.itv.com/news/2020-05-13/discrimination-frontline-coronavirus-covid19-black-minority-ethnic-bame-deaths-nhs-racism/

Here is a document from the National Health Service Employers, which discusses the matter of BAME disproportionality in much more sensible terms:

Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

Emerging evidence that is currently being reviewed by Public Health England shows that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are disproportionately affected by  COVID-19. This concerning evidence suggests that the impact may also be higher among men and those in the higher age brackets. The reasons for this are not yet fully understood, but the health inequalities present for BAME communities have long been recognised.  One hypothesis is that people from BAME communities have higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, and this may increase their vulnerability and risk.  

Within the NHS, 40 per cent of doctors and 20 per cent of nurses are from BAME backgrounds, as are substantial numbers of health care support workers and ancillary staff. The exposure faced by frontline health and care workers puts them at a greater risk of catching COVID-19.  

There may be other factors which are identified, and employers will need to update their local policies and approaches in light of the ongoing work and advice of PHE.  

Employers should ensure that line managers are supported to have thorough, sensitive and comprehensive conversations with their BAME staff. They should identify any existing underlying health conditions that may increase the risks for them in undertaking their frontline roles, in any capacity. Most importantly, the conversations should also, on an ongoing basis, consider the feelings of BAME colleagues, particularly with regard to their safety and their mental health.

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