News | Published May 30 2020

RCN survey highlights Covid’s disproportionate effect on BAME people working in the NHS

A new survey by the Royal College of Nursing has indicated that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic nursing staff are having problems accessing personal protective equipment compared to their white counterparts. 

The survey of 5,000 workers revealed that twice as many BAME workers than white workers said they did not have enough surgical masks, disposable plastic aprons, and disposable gloves. More than half – 56 per cent – said they had felt workplace pressure to care for coronavirus patients without adequate PPE, compared to just 29 per cent of white staff.

The differences are stark across the board: from shortage of fluid-repellent gowns, which was again roughly twice as prevalent for BAME than white staff (37 and 19 per cent, respectively), and more socially, with 53 per cent of BAME staff surveyed answering that they had been asked to re-use PPE compared to 42 per cent of white staff, and nearly a quarter of BAME staff saying they have no confidence their employer is doing enough to protect them, compared to 11 per cent of white staff.

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said, “it is simply unacceptable that we are in a situation where BAME nursing staff are less protected than other nursing staff.

“These results reinforce our call for BAME nursing staff to have specific risk assessments to reflect the risks they face as a result of Covid-19.

“All of our nursing staff must have the protection they need, and action must be taken urgently to ensure they are all kept safe. We look forward to getting more answers from Public Health England’s Investigation into the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BAME groups.”

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Andrea Sutcliff agreed:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed deep seated inequalities for ethnic minority nursing and midwifery professionals.

“Their experiences cannot be ignored and I hope this survey leads to concerted action by all partners across the health and care system to secure much needed improvements.”

The disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on BAME people first became prevalent in the news agenda in early May, after seven of the first eight general practitioners to die from the virus were BAME. This resulted in mounting political pressure on the government to rapidly understand and mitigate this disproportionality in the virus’s effects, and consequently Public Health England launched an investigation into the matter. The PHE investigation will take into account factors of race, gender, and obesity, and is set to be released by the end of May.

The Labour Party has also responded to the RCN survey’s findings, with the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer saying:

“Six in 10 health workers who have died have been from BAME communities.

“The government must act to ensure all staff are provided with the protection they need.”

Labour have now launched their own inquiry into the matter, led by the party’s race relations advisor Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who has argued:

“The government must ensure risk assessments for BAME staff are taking place so that high-risk employees are adequately protected.”

With the results of the PHE report out immanently, and the death toll continually rising, this is another on a long line of important crucial issues to which the government needs to have a rapid and effective response.

Photo by Ben Hope on Unsplash

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Authored by

George Walker
May 30 2020

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