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BAME NHS Staff May Be Removed from The Frontlines to Protect Them from The Coronavirus

BAME NHS Staff May Be Removed from The Frontlines to Protect Them from The Coronavirus

NHS England has called on hospital trusts, mental healthcare providers, ambulance services and organisations providing community-based healthcare to move NHS staff belonging to black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to roles outside frontline duties. The move is aimed at reducing the disproportionately-high number of deaths caused by COVID-19 among BAME NHS staff.

The new guidance came amidst growing evidence that people of BAME backgrounds are at higher risk from COVID-19 and urged services to make the necessary adjustments to protect staff from infections. The new guidance will also implement risk assessments to ensure that the reassigned jobs leaves them at smaller risk of coronavirus infections.

“We recommend employers should risk-assess staff at a potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.”

The nine-page letter, issued by NHS improvement’s chief operating officer, Amanda Pritchard and addressed to hospital trusts, mental healthcare providers, ambulance services and community healthcare centres, acknowledged that data in both the United Kingdom shows that those of BAME backgrounds are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The letter added that the Department of Health and Social Care has already asked Public Health England to investigate the reasons behind the disproportionately large number of BAME deaths in the UK, including those who work for the NHS who make up about one in five NHS staff in England and about half of the doctors in London.

The letter called on the NHS facilities around the country to assess how much at risk BAME staff are and take precautions to protect them. The letter did not specify any specific measures. However, newspapers speculate that BAME staff will be redeployed from front-line duties to reduce their exposure to the virus and may be given priority for testing.

A number of NHS trusts had already launched efforts to protect BAME staff from the virus. The Chief Executive of the Somerset NHS Trust, Peter Lewis, told staff that their safety is a top priority and that they would be classed as “vulnerable and at risk”. The Somerset trust promised safety checks and priority testing in the event of staff showing COVID-19 symptoms. Staff will also undergo “fit-test” in order to wear an FFP3 ventilator mask. Flexibility to sick leaves, as well as allowances to take time off to protect family members, have also been announced.

Inquiry has been launched to understand the causes behind COVID-19-related BAME deaths

The new NHS guidance comes as the UK launches an official inquiry to better understand why people of BAME backgrounds are dying disproportionately of COVID-19. A number of possible explanations, ranging from socioeconomic causes to biological causes have been proposed. However, so far, there has been no conclusive explanation as to why this is the case.

The inquiry itself has been shadowed by controversy over the appointment of Trevor Phillips. Muslim activists warned that the appointment of Phillips, who was suspended from the Labour Party on grounds of Islamophobia, would bias the findings of the inquiry.

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