Consultant's survey reveals 'astonishing' views of hundreds of ethnic minority doctors

  • Emma Wilkinson reports:

It is estimated that over 90% of NHS doctors who have died from Covid-19 were from ethnic minority backgrounds, but nearly three months after the first doctor's death in March, many doctors still have not been risk assessed as advised.

NHS England recommended in April that hospital trusts should take ethnicity into account when carrying out risk assessments, and earlier this month a Public Health England review recommended accelerating 'the development of culturally competent occupational risk assessment tools'.

Scunthorpe-based consultant ophthalmologist, Sakkaf Ahmed Aftab, was so disappointed by the rate of progress nationally that he formed his own survey and distributed it Black, Asian and ethnic minority doctors around the country.

Of the 930 doctors who responded, 48% said they had still not been risk-assessed and 60% said they were not happy with the outcome of their risk assessment.

Mr Aftab, who is also a BMA consultants committee member, asked doctors about personal protective equipment too. Of those who answered, 89% said they did not feel current Public Health England guidance on PPE was adequate for all clinical scenarios - 95% said they would feel better protected/prefer having a FFP3 respirator (enhanced PPE) while seeing suspected or Covid-19 positive cases.

More than 900 doctors responded to Mr Aftab's survey

Mr Aftab's survey is one of a number of attempts to capture the feelings and opinions of NHS staff from ethnic minority backgrounds, who are at significantly increased risk of dying from Covid-19.

It is difficult to get a full picture of the perceptions of all staff, but research from both ITV News and the British Medical Association supports Mr Aftab's findings that a significant number still have not received risk assessments and are more likely to feel they are not protected from coronavirus than white colleagues.

NHS England first recommended risk assessments for BAME staff in April.

This week NHS England wrote a letter to hospitals and other NHS employers saying:

"As employers, we each have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of our own staff.

"Completing risk assessments for at-risk members of staff is a vital component of this.

"All employers need to make significant progress in deploying risk assessments within the next two weeks and complete them - at least for all staff in at-risk groups - within four weeks."

The minister for equalities, Kemi Badenoch, said recently that the government was taking the Public Health England review very seriously and that a number of measures to mitigate the increased risk to ethnic minorities were already in progress.