Call to protect Filipino health staff as community suffers ‘highest death rate’

(from top left to bottom right) Leilani Dayrit, Linnette Cruz, Ruben Munoz, Larni Zuniga, Julius Sana, Kenneth Lambatan, Elma Cavalida, Eleu Credit: Handout/PA

There have been calls to better protect Filipinos health care workers as it was claimed more workers of Filipino heritage had died working in the UK health and care system during the coronavirus crisis than in the Philippines.

Francis Fernando, a nurse and officer for the Filipino Nurses Association UK, believes the community has suffered more deaths in Britain’s health and care sector than any other ethnic group, although a lack of reliable data makes it difficult to prove definitively.

By May 16, there have been 173 verified deaths of frontline health and care workers with Covid-19. Of those, 23 – approximately 13% – were of Filipino heritage, according to PA.

The Philippines’ ambassador to the UK has called for key workers to be “properly protected” after two more frontline staff died this week.

Following the deaths of Norman Austria, a healthcare assistant at the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton, and Jun Terre, a nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire ambassador Antonio Lagdameo said: “I urge the NHS to ensure that those heroes who put their lives on the line for all of us are properly protected and equipped as they do their job.”

Ambassador Antonio Lagdameo Credit: Philippines UK Embassy/PA

Official figures indicate that around 18,500 Filipinos worked in the NHS in England as of March 2019, roughly 1.5% of an estimated 1.2 million total workforce.

The vast majority of those workers were in nursing or clinical support positions, with the Philippines providing more staff in these roles than any other country outside the UK.

Mr Fernando, who worked for 19 years in the NHS before moving to a private care home in London, added that the Filipino Nurses Association had heard “a lot of anecdotal stories about BAME staff being hand-picked to work in Covid wards, again without adequate protection”.

“Few of the BAME staff will say no. It’s our job, we have a duty of care to our patients as nurses and professionals. So, unfortunately, they are being put in harm’s way,” he said.

Eleuterio — or “Boy” — Gibela, 68, had worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital as a cleaner since 2003, following his wife Deborah, who had already moved from the Philippines to work there.

He died in the same hospital on March 2 after contracting Covid-19.

Mr Gibela had continued going in despite suffering diabetes and chest problems, both of which would put him at greater risk if he caught the virus.

Eleuterio Gibela, left, with his wife Deborah Credit: Handout/PA

Mr Gibela’s youngest daughter Kristiana told PA: “My dad would never complain about anything. I know he was a really hard-working man.

“They would ask him to do overtime and cover for someone; my dad would never say no. He was that kind of man.”

Her elder sister Louella said she believes he contracted the virus on his last shift, during which his ward was treating “a lot of Covid patients”.

She said her mother had tried to make arrangements for him to be transferred or sent home, but “he was a very stubborn man” and wanted to finish his day of work.

Louella also echoed the ambassador’s calls for more to be done to protect workers, adding that the Government “could have found better PPE” for staff.

There have been calls for a public inquiry into the number of deaths among black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers from Covid-19, after official statistics showed people from some minority backgrounds were at greater risk of dying after contracting the virus.

The NHS has introduced risk assessments for all BAME staff in the wake of the concerns, and is working with organisations such as Mr Fernando’s to allay fears among staff.

However, he still believes that many are not putting official guidance in to effect, with the group informed of several cases of vulnerable workers being put in high-risk situations by their managers.

Filipino health workers who have died with Covid-19

  • John Alagos, nurse

  • Elvira Bucu, healthcare assistant

  • Donald Suelto, nurse

  • Leilani Dayrit, nurse

  • Amor Gatinao, nurse

  • Elbert Rico, hospital porter

  • Oscar King Jr, hospital porter

  • Melujean Ballesteros, nurse

  • Leilani Medel, nurse

  • Linnette Cruz, dental nurse

  • Ruben Munoz, nursing assistant

  • Jenelyn Carter, healthcare assistant

  • Ate Wilma Banaag, nurse

  • Elma Cavalida, maternity assistant

  • Kenneth Lambatan, cardiology research nurse

  • Eleuterio Gibela, domestic worker

  • Jennie Sablayan, haematology nurse

  • Norman Austria, healthcare assistant

  • Jun Terre, nurse

  • Larni Zuniga, care home nurse

  • Julius Sana, hospital support worker

  • Emelita Hurboda, nurse

  • Lalaine Lopez Pesario, care worker