1. Cleaners more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than medics working in ICU 

Alex Ritcher, a professor of immunology at the University of Birmingham is the lead author of a study published in the journal Thorax which found that cleaners were more likely to have been infected with COVID-19 than medics working in intensive care units (ICU). The research also recorded that BME people were nearly twice as likely to have been infected as white colleagues.

Some of the reasons put forward for these findings include that staff working in ICU/ITU are:

  1. prioritised for the highest level of masks and other equipment
  2. are more familiar with rigorous precautions for sterility and infection prevention in emergency rooms and
  3. that patients were more infectious at the beginning of their illness and less likely to spread the virus by the time they are treated in intensive care.

The researchers tested more than 500 staff at the University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust and all the staff involved were at work in late April when COVID-19 cases were peaking.

Now that the various health providers have completed their risk assessments and we await a statement from the centre about the findings all the evidence (including a study by a group in Oxford which we mentioned previously) points to the need to ensure cleaners (of which a significant proportion are from a BME background) are also considered a priority group for PPE next time around.

2. Islamophobia in the health service

A survey of Muslim NHS workers undertaken by a joint venture between the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and HuffPost UK found that Islamophobia is rife in the NHS. Muslim NHS workers reported being subjected to disgraceful comments by their colleagues and being denied opportunities to progress, or even socialise.

The article reports that 81% of the Muslim workers revealed they had experience Islamophobia or racism within the NHS. However, in the majority of cases staff did not report their experiences in case of repercussions for their job or career progression.

One Muslim female consultant mentioned that if staff were to report the racism to which they were being subjected to then:

you may as well flush your medical degree down the toilet, because the NHS is a family which will close ranks to protect their own against those perceived as outsiders

Kiran Rahim a paediatric registrar in London shared her experience of wearing a hijab notably:

In the NHS, you realise theres something about the hijab that really riles people” and People make assumptions about you. When people first see me, they presume I dont speak English, or I have an accent

Whilst none of these experiences and/or comments come as a surprise to us they are still all very shocking. Nevertheless, it is further evidence which confirms that racism in the NHS is endemic and engrained and no easy challenge, but challenge we must.

3. One in three trusts have entirely white boards

The Health Service Journal reported that research undertaken by the University of Exeter on behalf of NHS Confederation revealed that one in three trusts (70 of 213 trusts) had entirely white NHS boards.

It also reported that London had the highest percentage of board directors from a BME background. In addition, mental health trusts had the highest representation of BME directors and the acute and community trusts the lowest.

Furthermore, there was a lack of diversity within some board roles with medical directors of BME ethnicity accounting for 19.4% of the total, which is close to the overall percentage of BME doctors. However, the proportion of BME CEOs was 2.4%; BME Chairs 5.2% and BME Chief Finance and Chief Operational roles below 5%.

The NHS Confederation launched an independent task force to improve the diversity of chairs and NEDs in the NHS in February this year so it will be interesting to see early next year what impact the task force has had on these shameful statistics.