Coronavirus in Wales: Call for action on ethnic minorities virus risks

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Prof Keshav Singhal is a consultant at Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board

High-risk workers from ethnic minorities could face “certain death” from Covid-19 without urgent action, a doctors’ association has said.

The UK government launched a review after research suggested Covid-19 has a disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) said Wales should take steps “very quickly”.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was taking the matter “very seriously”.

Data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) suggests that 34% of critically ill coronavirus patients are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds.

The research is based on 3,300 patients from intensive care units across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the 2011 Census, around 4% of people in Wales described themselves as being black, Asian or of mixed heritage.

Prof Keshav Singhal, chairman of BAPIO Wales, said authorities needed to find out why these communities may be disproportionately affected.

“The end point is to mitigate this worrying trend,” he said.

“We know that certain risks are very high. So, a male, middle-aged BAME with concurrent diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, is absolutely high risk – putting them on the front line is almost condemning them to a certain death.”

He said he wanted to see authorities looking at these factors to protect people known to be high risk.

“Do a risk assessment, make sure that we are not putting them at certain harm and come out with something very, very quickly,” said Prof Singhal.

Dr David Bailey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Welsh Council, said it was “shockingly clear” the number of BAME healthcare professionals being adversely affected by Covid-19 was “significantly disproportionate”.

“Action needs to be taken in Wales, and it needs to happen quickly,” he said.

“These dedicated doctors and healthcare workers are putting themselves at risk to look after our loved ones, and Welsh Government must do everything in their power to assess their risk, to be able to offer suitable protections.”

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Rocio Cifuentes said it was difficult to get accurate, statistically significant data on ethnicity in Wales

Alongside the review, Public Health England has announced that it will also start tracking data by ethnicity.

Rocio Cifuentes, from the Ethnic Youth Support Team, would also like to see that in Wales.

“It’s always difficult in Wales to have accurate, statistically significant data on ethnicity because Wales is a relatively small country and within that, the ethnic minority population is also relatively low,” she said.

“However, because this community and population does seem to be disproportionately affected, I think it is really, really pressing that we do act quickly to collect that data now.

“Not just to have the database; so that we can act on the evidence and so we can prevent future deaths”.

Race Council Cymru said authorities needed to allay fears within minority communities.

It has written to the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Frank Atherton, asking him to look at a number of suggested steps:

  • Publish data on the number of BAME Covid-19 patients and health workers in critical care in Wales and the number that have died
  • Support for a national investigation into the impact of the virus on BAME communities and/or whether there will be a Welsh-specific investigation
  • Look at whether high rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Vitamin D deficiency within the BAME communities have made them more vulnerable
  • Measures to reduce additional worries and anxieties within BAME communities and address underlying issues that increase their vulnerability to diseases

Mr Drakeford said: “I want an opportunity to talk to those organisations to get their views on how best we can make sure that we protect those communities here in Wales and mobilise the sorts of research efforts that are needed to understand the patterns that may be there and what is causing them.”

Asked whether there would be a specific Welsh investigation, the first minister said it was not a Welsh-only issue, but a UK-wide one and he was keen to work with other parts of the country to get “better and more rapid” answers.

It comes as the UK government launched a review after research suggested Covid-19 has a disproportionate impact on BAME people.

The Welsh Government said the UK review would inform its planning and response.

But Prof Singhal called the Welsh Government response “disappointing”.

“Wales should not be following England, but taking a lead on this issue before it is too late.” he said.