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Coronavirus: BAME health workers should be ‘removed from danger’, says Royal College of Surgeons

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Health workers from ethnic minority groups who are dealing with the coronavirus crisis should be removed from high-risk areas, the Royal College of Surgeons has said.

It comes as Sky News analysis suggested 60% of all NHS workers who have died with COVID-19 are members of ethnic minority groups.

Professor Neil Mortensen, president-elect of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), said he supported calls for BAME colleagues to be protected but cautioned that it could put huge pressure on other staff.

“They are a particularly at-risk group,” he told Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast.

“Like other at-risk groups, I think they need to not be put in positions where they’re not quite so at risk.

“We don’t really quite know why yet, but it’s important they are removed from – if you like – from danger.”

Professor Mortensen said the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community is “such an important part of our workforce”.

NHS England has already recommended that health trusts assess BAME workers as “at potentially greater risk” from coronavirus.

It has advised all trusts to carry out risk assessments for workers from those backgrounds.

Official guidance says UK and international data indicates people from BAME backgrounds are being “disproportionately affected by COVID-19”.

Public Health England has been asked by the Department for Health and Social Care to investigate.

Scientists have already highlighted factors including:

  • Increased underlying health conditions among BAME people, such as heart conditions, type 2 diabetes and respiratory issues
  • BAME people are more likely to work in essential roles such as bus drivers, taxi drivers, shop keepers and in health and social care
  • BAME families are more likely to live in multi-generational, overcrowded homes than white counterparts

With much debate on how current restrictions might be lifted, Professor Mortensen also warned that easing the lockdown now would put an “intolerable pressure” on NHS workers.

He said it shouldn’t be lifted until there is “proper resource” in place to deal with a potential second surge of cases.

On personal protective equipment (PPE), Professor Mortensen said he was surprised that a recent RCS survey over the past week had found surgeons and specialists were still struggling.

A third said they did not have enough to do their job safely.

The provision of PPE, such as gowns and masks, has been an ongoing issue in the coronavirus crisis.

Many healthcare workers have complained there is not enough to go around, meaning they have to improvise, buy their own, or reuse items.

The government has said it is constantly trying to source more from around the world but there is huge global demand.

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