New figures from Tower Hamlets have highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the BAME population. It shows that Asian residents are twice as likely to be showing signs of COVID-19. The Mayor has written to the Prime Minister highlighting the figures and asking for urgent action to be taken to address this stark difference in health outcomes.

Tower Hamlets Council has worked in partnership with local GPs and Queen Mary University to understand how Covid-19 is affecting our population. The analysis has shown that when adjusted for age the rate of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 is 1.9 times higher in people of South Asian origin and 1.6 higher for the black population compared to the white population.

Nationally the figures show thirty-five percent of coronavirus patients in critical care beds are from ethnic minority backgrounds, despite the UK’s BAME population being just fourteen per cent. The situation among NHS staff is even more severe – of the fifty-three NHS staff who have died in the pandemic so far, sixty-eight per cent are BAME.

In his letter the Mayor pointed out that while on the one hand our BAME population are more likely to work in frontline services in the NHS, transport or delivery services, on the other hand evidence shows they are already disproportionally likely to suffer from health inequalities and the resulting underlying existing health problems.

The council has played a key role in getting messages out to its diverse community, which includes a large Bangladeshi community. Mayor John Biggs has said he will commission more work into this and submit evidence to both the Women and Equalities Parliamentary Select Committee and the enquiry launched by Labour peer Doreen Lawrence who Keir Starmer recently appointed to the post of race relations adviser.

Mayor John Biggs said:

“I represent a hugely diverse borough and by working with local partners I am making the case to government to understand what is behind these trends so we can take urgent action to address them. We have been told that COVID-19 does not discriminate but we can’t get away from the figures which show it is disproportionately impacting my BAME residents and I want answers for them.”

 Councillor Asma Begum, Deputy Mayor for Community Safety and Equalities said:

“These figures provide a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 and it is important that we continue to monitor these trends. We know that across the country it’s been impacting on BAME communities disproportionately and we want to share our experience locally and urge government to take action to ensure everyone is protected in this pandemic.”

 

Full text of the letter sent from Mayor Biggs to the Prime Minister:

Dear Prime Minister,

I have been very concerned to read reports that the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) seems to be disproportionately impacting BAME communities in the UK.

Currently, thirty-five percent of coronavirus patients in critical care beds are from ethnic minority backgrounds, despite the UK’s BAME population being just fourteen per cent. The situation among NHS staff is even more severe – of the fifty-three NHS staff who have died in the pandemic so far, sixty-eight per cent are BAME.

Tower Hamlets Council has worked in partnership with local GPs and Queen Mary University to understand how Covid-19 is affecting our population. The analysis has shown that when adjusted for age the rate of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 is 1.9 times higher in people of South Asian background, and 1.6 higher for black populations compared to the white population.

While on the one hand our BAME population are more likely to work in frontline services in the NHS, transport or delivery services – on the other, evidence shows they are already disproportionally likely to suffer from health inequalities and the resulting underlying existing health problems.

At present we do not have a clear idea of the ethnic breakdown of the overall coronavirus death toll because ethnicity was not being recorded on death certificates in the UK however it is evident that Covid-19 is having a disproportionate impact on those from BAME communities and I am pleased that Public Health England has said it will start recording this.

Tower Hamlets where I represent is one of the most diverse places in the country so these figures are particularly worrying. I’m very concerned about the impact of the pandemic locally, both in terms of people contracting the virus and of its secondary impacts on, for example, mental health and loss of earnings that are likely to follow if, as the evidence above suggests, Tower Hamlets suffers more acutely than other parts of the country.

Our local analysis shows a clear ethnic difference in infection rates. Clearly the factors behind this may be complex and what is needed is an urgent analysis of data, taking account of a range of factors to attempt to provide greater clarity from which advice and guidance but also policy can be driven. This could affect outcomes for my residents and so is, literally, a matter of life and death importance.

While I welcome that the government has commissioned Public Health England to investigate the impact of coronavirus on the UK’s BAME population, an investigation alone is insufficient. Immediate action needs to be taken to protect BAME communities from the virus. I would like your government to provide additional resources to support areas, like Tower Hamlets, which have large BAME populations so we can protect our residents. I also strongly urge you to diversify the Government’s public communications to better target higher risk BAME groups – translating materials and publicity into different community languages. It would not be right that communities suffer more from Covid-19 just because English isn’t their first language.

We all have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce the impact of the pandemic and I trust that your government will take decisive steps to both investigate and more importantly act to resolve the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on BAME communities, including by giving local authorities with diverse populations the necessary resources to protect their residents.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor John Biggs

Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets

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