Racial health inequality and the Covid-19 Public Inquiry – has the time finally come for radical reform?
The Covid-19 pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in all aspects of life. One concerning phenomenon has been the disproportionate levels of infection, adverse health outcomes and deaths amongst black and minority ethnic communities which became evident at an early stage of the pandemic, along with wider socio-economic impacts and unique challenges faced by black and minority ethnic health and social care workers.
This disparity has once again shone a light on the persisting and pervasive problem of racial health inequality in the UK and its stark consequences. After all, this is far from new news. Research into and reporting on the topic going back decades is well documented and we are now 12 years on from the landmark Marmot Review. Numerous recommendations have been made along with promises and pledges of remedial action. So why is it that so little progress has seemingly been made? Why do these inequalities still persist and what can and must be done now to address and reduce the disparities?
These are questions that the NHS Race and Health Observatory committed to address in a damning new report published this week. As the introduction to the report states: “we already know what the problem is, that more reports and research won’t help, and that what we need now is action”. In drawing together existing data and synthesising the overwhelming weight of evidence into actionable policy recommendations to combat racial health inequality, however, the Observatory proclaims to “exist to remove excuses”.
The report makes for uncomfortable and at times shocking reading and paints a dismal picture of the widespread and deeply entrenched health inequalities that affect every aspect of life from conception through to death. At the root of these inequalities, the report finds, is the widespread force of structural, institutional and interpersonal racism.
The report also highlights inequalities within the NHS and the disproportionate impacts that ethnic minority healthcare workers have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, it features a study that found ethnic minority frontline healthcare workers to be nearly 5 times as likely to test positive for Covid-19 when compared with a white general population reference group. More widely, studies have uncovered disproportionately negative impacts in respect of access to adequate and properly fitting PPE, discrimination in the workplace, racist abuse and/or harassment and mental health and wellbeing.
It is imperative that the reasons for these racial health disparities are fully investigated during the upcoming statutory public inquiry, such that lessons can be learned, and recommendations made to address the underlying issues that have caused such inequity to exist.
Saunders Law is proud to be working with the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations (FEMHO) on these issues. We fully support its recent letter to the guardian as well as its submissions to Baroness Hallett, the Inquiry Chair, seeking confirmation that these matters will be addressed within the inquiry’s terms of reference.