Six in 10 UK health workers killed by Covid-19 are BAME

Sarah Marsh and Niamh McIntyre

The number of healthcare workers who have died due to Covid-19 has reached 200, according to a Guardian count, and more than six in 10 of the victims were from BAME backgrounds.

Analysis looking at staff in hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and other settings found that 122 of the dead, or 61% of the total, were from an ethnic minority background.

Of those staff whose backgrounds could be identified, Asian workers accounted for 34% of the overall death toll, black staff 24% and white workers 36%, while the rest were unknown.

Intisar Chowdhury, the 18-year-old son of Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a consultant urologist at Homerton hospital in east London who died after contracting Covid-19, said: “I see a lot of comments praising NHS healthcare workers for sacrificing their lives; there is a lot of martyr-style praising, paying tribute to NHS workers as heroes giving their lives on the frontline.

“It’s good to see NHS workers getting the recognition they deserve but they should not have to give their lives, they should not have to go as martyrs. They did not sign up to battle on the frontline and give up their lives … It really breaks my heart.”

He said it was clear that BAME workers were not being protected enough. “Whether there are too many on frontlines or not enough investigation into genetic factors that make them more vulnerable – not enough is being done that needs to be done ASAP.”

Chowdhury remembered his father as an “amazing man” and as the “blueprint for how to be a humanitarian hero”.

Dr Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, said: “We’re deeply saddened to hear that 200 colleagues working across the NHS and social care have now lost their lives to Covid-19. Each and every single one made a tremendous contribution.

“It is disturbing and troubling however to see that 60% come from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, indicating once again that urgent action is required to protect frontline BAME staff. We eagerly await the findings of the BAME Covid-19 review by Professor Kevin Fenton but know that steps need to be taken now to safeguard colleagues. As we step ever closer to easing lockdown measures, staff need to be risk assessed and provided with appropriate protective equipment and testing.”

Ethnic minority break down of NHS deaths

The Guardian findings tally with a study of early Covid-19 deaths by the Health Service Journal, which found that 63% of the first 106 deaths of NHS staff were BAME.

One in five NHS staff are BAME, according to the most recent figures. BAME staff appear to be significantly over-represented among the 200 deaths in the Guardian dataset, but as the figure includes health workers in care homes and private hospitals, direct comparisons cannot be made.

The NHS trusts with the highest number of deaths were West Hertfordshire hospitals NHS trust, and Barts Health NHS trust in central London, with five deaths recorded at each.

John Alagos, 23, who is believed to be the youngest health worker to die during the pandemic, worked for West Hertfordshire as a healthcare assistant.

The Guardian found men made up the greater share of the deaths, accounting for 56% of the total. This is consistent with general trends that appear to show men are at greater risk of dying from coronavirus.

The analysis also found more than a third of health workers who died were in nursing roles, a significantly higher proportion than doctors and surgeons, who accounted for 18% of the deaths.

Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, “The loss of one life is deeply distressing, never mind such a high and growing number. It is a tragedy, and on behalf of everyone at the RCN, I would like to pay tribute to them. We will always remember them and the high price they paid for the care and safety of others.

“It’s particularly distressing that such a high proportion of the staff who have died are from BAME communities. We urgently need to understand why this is happening.”

Methodology

The information on health workers has been sourced from news reports, submissions from friends and families, news agencies and a list collated by nursing platform Nursing Notes.

In cases where the cause of death was unclear it has been verified with the person’s employer. The dataset includes all staff working in hospitals, including pharmacists, porters, cleaners and other roles, as well as healthcare professionals working outside hospitals, including staff working in GP surgeries and medical staff working in care homes. Some workers were categorised as BAME but their ethnicity could not be identified.