Blog: Standing together against all injustice and threats to our BAME communities

Whilst undoubtedly we still have much to learn about this virus, what is clear is that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are at significantly higher risk of infection, more severe illness and sadly death as a result of contracting COVID-19.

In response, NHS England and NHS Confederation has created a new centre to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health - The NHS Race and Health Observatory. Its aim is to identify and tackle the specific health challenges facing BAME people. You may have also seen the Public Health England COVID-19 review of disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 which includes the impacting factor of race.

As our knowledge of this virus grows, how we respond to it in different scenarios and with different risk groups can also adapt. Frontline health workers are now well aware of the increased risk associated with being from a BAME background with regards the severity of illness if infected with COVID-19. Knowing this helps us take the right steps when managing patients and in the end, improve outcomes for anyone from a higher risk category. In the longer term, delivery of the culturally specific health interventions needed to have lasting impact on behaviour change for at risk groups will be essential to reduce and eventually eliminate these inequalities.

As well as protecting our patients with this knowledge it is vital we consider how we treat and protect our own workforce. As the largest employer in the country we need to make sure that the NHS does everything it can to keep its workforce safe - especially those disproportionately affected by the virus. Health and care workers should be able to go to work and know they are in the safest possible environment with the best means of personal protective equipment.

In order to support all the organisations working in our NHS family, a system wide risk assessment has been circulated with expectations that all providers rapidly complete these for their staff. We also have an Integrated Care System working group that meets weekly to share good practice and embed learning from risk assessments – taking any necessary action to keep BAME colleagues safe now and in the future.

The virus is not the only enemy we need to stand together against. The recent events in America culminating in the tragic death of George Floyd have rightly caused distress across our system. This terrible event highlights a long history of injustice and racism that has been experienced by many and we recognise that we must do more to understand and take action where racism occurs.

We have issued a statement to our staff highlighting our commitment to taking a proactive and firm stance against systemic racism and other injustices that our BAME community experience. We are committed to promoting a culture of inclusion where everyone feels valued for who they are and what they do. We know that our partner organisations across Surrey Heartlands share our perspective and we will continue to stand together on this issue.

Across the CCG and our wider membership we recognise the value of a diverse workforce and we want to do more to ensure our team reflects the many different communities we serve. The NHS as a whole is a proud multi-cultural employer and relies on staff from a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities, and is most definitely the richer for it. Listening to these colleagues and residents and acting on their ideas and experience will help us reduce, and hopefully one day eradicate, the inequalities they face.  

We know that words need to be followed by tangible actions.

With our system partners we are working to improve the support for our BAME workforce in a number of ways, including:

  • Setting up a BAME Alliance to work with system partners to improve our Workforce Race Equality and provide a better working environment for all
  • Working on the local ‘Be Kind’ campaign, looking at how we can better support BAME staff, to be launched imminently
  • Risk assessments for BAME colleagues across all partner organisations (as set out above)
  • Engaging with BAME networks and forums to seek their views across Surrey Heartlands and sharing best practices
  • Continuing to work closely with Unions to support our workforce
  • Completing an action plan detailing how we want to address the disproportionate affect COVID-19 is having on our BAME workforce
  • Providing safe, open spaces for BAME colleagues for confidential discussions
  • Continuing to offer redeployment options for those at increased risk
  • Developing a work log which brings together our Workforce Race Equality Standard data across the system so we can plan further measures to support and protect colleagues

The wellbeing of our staff is paramount. If you need any support please reach out either to your line manager, your mental health first aiders at work or via the free resources open to any member of the NHS and care family at www.people.nhs.uk

The evidence is now clear that people are not affected equally by COVID-19 – either in terms of the immediate risk to health or the negative social and economic consequences. In particular, some minority ethnic groups and people in certain key worker and low-income jobs – groups that often overlap – are at much greater risk.

Finishing my blog this month makes me reflect on where we are three months into the pandemic and how life continues to change for us all. Understanding the underlying systemic and institutional factors that underpin the widening of inequalities across all aspects of life will be essential in order to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 way beyond the existence of the virus itself. How we as a system face this challenge will be my focus in July’s blog. There will be a role for us all to play so if you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Charlotte

Dr Charlotte Canniff

Clinical Chair

NHS Surrey Heartlands CCG