Disproportionate BAME Covid deaths were avoidable, task force finds

Elliot Chappell

A task force has found that the disproportionate number of Covid deaths in Black and ethnic minority communities in the West Midlands were avoidable, after hearing months of “harrowing and distressing” evidence from families affected.

The body, which has heard testimony from those who lost relatives in the pandemic over the past three months, today presented a 42-page report with 35 recommendations for ministers, MPs, local government and the NHS.

The group – led by Labour figures including MP and West Midlands metro mayor candidate Liam Byrne – has said that this higher rate of coronavirus deaths constitutes an “urgent medical emergency”.

The task force reported that a “perfect storm of factors meant that the West Midlands BAME community was hit hardest – yet the data and funding to stop a second wave is not in place”.

It has called for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate number of BAME Covid fatalities and demanded urgent action be taken to protect communities ahead of a second wave of the virus.

Commenting on the evidence heard by the group, Byrne said: “Without doubt, the evidence we heard from families was the most harrowing and distressing that any of us have heard in public life.

“We heard about families holding back from seeking help because they were worried about the care they would receive.

“We heard about BAME workers on the frontline having to make their own personal protective equipment, or having to ‘pull strings’ to visit dying loved ones – and now a significant risk of ongoing trauma and mental health issues, because so many have lost loved ones, without the normal traditions of being able to say goodbye.

“We heard from frontline medical staff who saw for themselves how the system was overwhelmed with little regard to communicating with the minority groups or understanding their specific needs.

“The lack of personal protective equipment in the early stages led to many BAME staff being struck down themselves and passing Covid-19 onto their families.

“Yet despite the perfect storm of health inequalities, the lack of PPE for the frontline, and underfunding of groups supporting those with long term health conditions, the most diverse West Midlands communities has suffered the biggest cuts to public health funding – and we still don’t have the ethnicity data we need on death certificates or testing results to be able to track risks in the future.

“The government must now call an independent inquiry to learn this lessons – and I’ll present this report to the House of Commons to demand they get on with it.”

This report into coronavirus deaths in the West Midlands will contribute to the wider review being conducted by the Labour Party into the impact of the virus on BAME communities, headed by Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

Describing the findings as “deeply worrying”, Lawrence said: “The testimony of those that have lost loved ones are distressing and lessons need to be learned, so that further people from BAME populations are not put at risk of dying.

“If we are going to effectively address the disproportionate impact of Covid-19, we must eradicate the systemic inequalities that it thrives on. My wider review for Labour will be taking this inquiry’s findings into account.”

She commended the work of the West Midlands group and added that “the government will be held to account for its failings and we will not sit by idly, while lives remain at risk”.

Labour’s Marsha de Cordova said the latest analysis “reinforces what we already know about the structural and racial inequalities which have led to the Covid-19 pandemic hitting BAME communities across the UK so very hard”.

The Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary added: “The government has had repeated warnings, repeated reports, repeated recommendations and yet has still consistently failed to act in a timely manner.”

The government announced an investigation into the disproportionately high number of deaths among BAME communities in the pandemic in April. Labour launched its own review shortly afterwards.

The Labour Party initially welcomed the government’s review but criticised the subsequent report, published by the inquiry in June, for providing no recommendations on how disparities between communities would be reduced.

You can read the full report published today here.

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