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GP practices asked to ‘risk assess’ black and ethnic minority staff

GP practices should risk assess their staff who are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in light of emerging evidence they may be at higher risk from Covid-19, NHS England has said.

It said while further guidance will follow an ongoing investigation into a ‘disproportionate’ effect on BAME people, practices should ‘make appropriate arrangements’ to protect their BAME staff on a ‘precautionary basis’.

Adjustments include ‘working remotely or in a lower-risk area’, a letter sent to GP practices today from NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said.

The letter said: ‘Emerging UK and international data suggest that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Public Health England has been asked by DHSC to investigate this.

‘In advance of their report and guidance, on a precautionary basis we recommend employers should risk-assess staff at potentially greater risk and make appropriate arrangements accordingly.’

Practices and other NHS organisations should also ‘continue to assess’ and make adjustments for all staff who may be at increased risk, including older colleagues, pregnant women, returnees and those with underlying health conditions, NHS England added.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in North London, said: ‘NHS England has heeded the BMA’s call to direct all NHS providers to risk assess healthcare workers and in particular BAME staff who are at greatest risk of serious infection and even death.

‘However, the letter makes no mention of how providers should assess risk, and the BMA has already called on NHS England to develop a national  risk assessment framework so that this can be done with objectivity and consistency across the NHS.

‘This would take into account ethnicity, age, sex, and other medical conditions, as well as nature of work, risk of exposure and other factors. Those at highest risk should be protected from working in infectious areas and redeployed to non-Covid care or work remotely.’

Yesterday it was revealed that a Lincolnshire hospital trust has become the second to recognise its BAME workforce as ‘vulnerable and at-risk’.

It comes as six out of the seven GPs so far known to have died with coronavirus (Covid-19) are from BAME backgrounds.

Mr Stevens letter set out the plans for the ‘second phase’ of the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic, which would include GPs taking an enhanced role in ensuring the health of care home residents; undertaking as much routine and preventative work as is safe; and restore urgent referrals to pre-pandemic levels.