A review will analyse how factors such as ethnicity, gender and obesity can affect people’s vulnerability to coronavirus, health leaders have said.
Public Health England (PHE) said thousands of health records of people who have had Covid-19 will be examined to establish more “robust” data on what can impact the number of cases and health outcomes for different groups within the population.
The review aims to better understand how factors such as ethnicity, deprivation, age, gender and obesity could impact on how people are affected by Covid-19, PHE added.
PHE said the review will provide “insight” into emerging evidence the virus is having a disproportionate effect on different groups.
It follows reports that deaths among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are disproportionately high.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We recognise that there has been a disproportionately high number of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have passed away especially among care workers and those in the NHS.”
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, who said people would have noticed he was from an “ethnic minority group”, added that the issue was being taken “incredibly seriously”.
“We will get to the bottom of this however long it takes us,” he said.
The findings of the PHE-led review will be published at the end of the month.
Mr Hancock said: “As part of our continued effort to reduce health inequalities, we have commissioned PHE to consider various factors such as obesity, ethnicity, age, gender and geographical location, and how these may have an impact on someone’s susceptibility to the virus, including our brilliant key workers and frontline NHS and social care staff.
“It’s an extremely important and hugely complex task, but we owe it to the nation to find out how this virus may affect different groups in different ways, to protect lives and limit the spread of the disease.”
PHE said available data on health outcomes for NHS staff will also be analysed to better understand how the virus affects frontline workers.
The review will also look at vulnerable groups such as people who are homeless and rough sleeping, it added.
It will be led by Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE public health director for London, who said: “Detailed and careful work is being done so that we can better understand this and explore the possible reasons for any disparities.
“Increasing evidence and concern around the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic groups highlights an important focus of this review.
“PHE is rapidly building robust data and undertaking detailed analysis to develop our understanding of the impact of this novel coronavirus on different groups which can inform actions to mitigate the risks it presents.”
The review will also match laboratory records of coronavirus cases to existing health records to compile accurate data such as ethnicity and describe the association with Covid-19 cases, alongside other factors such as sex, age and geographical location, PHE said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was “extremely concerned” about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME health and care workers.
Its chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Every day that passes without knowing why this happening is another day with frontline staff being needlessly put at extra risk.
“All healthcare workers need to be safe right now, and that means that all employees must risk assess BAME employees, including ensuring provision of the right PPE for everyone who needs it.
“We will continue to call for accurate reporting of the numbers of deaths and infections among BAME healthcare staff across the UK so that swift action can be taken by employers to reduce risk and harm. But we cannot wait for the data to catch up while people are dying.”
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