Coronavirus: The true impact on UK's BAME community may never be known

Inzamam Rashid, news correspondent

Figures released by NHS England today show the continuing trend of the BAME community being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Out of the 19,740 people who tested positive for the virus and died in English hospitals, 18% are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. This is 3% higher than the BAME population in England.

But this is only part of the picture. Health authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland don't record ethnicity, or as they told us, their systems aren't robust enough to publish the data.

And in the UK, outside of hospitals, there is no mention of ethnicity on death certificates. So we may never know the true proportion of deaths from these communities.

In mid-April, the Department for Health and Social Care announced they would launch an inquiry into this issue to establish why so many people from BAME backgrounds are dying.

Early reports suggest a number of factors, including underlying health conditions, like type 2 diabetes or increased heart conditions.

The disproportionate number of deaths have also been clear in our health service.

Sky News analysis suggests that 62% of all those who've died in the NHS since the start of this outbreak are from a BAME background.

They include cleaners, hospital porters, nurses and intensive care doctors - all of whom are now known to be at a "potentially greater risk" by NHS England.

In reaction to a letter that was sent to all hospitals by NHS bosses, which recommended BAME staff should be risk assessed, one former CEO of a hospital said mitigating the risk is a big challenge.

Roy Lilley told Sky News: "Taking BAME colleagues out of front lines and COVID wards may just not be possible.

"We depend on them so much - certainly in huge hospitals like in London and Birmingham."

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He added that the NHS "just doesn't have the luxury of staff, its rotas currently are very thin, so moving staff around is not easy even when looking at the safety of its staff".

Mr Lilley also said the NHS has been slow to react to this issue, which we've known about for a few weeks.

"The movement from the centre in particular has been slow and now this is a difficult problem to resolve," he said.

"The logic of it is, the moment we found out that BAME colleagues were at risk we should have taken some action.

"These lessons have been learnt, but for some of our colleagues, may have come too late."

Speaking to Sky News, one doctor who is treating COVID-19 patients in the North West said: "I'm not afraid of dying myself because that's the only certainty about life.

"But what I am concerned about is I've got two young children. I don't want them to be without a parent for something that's potentially avoidable."

"I could be removed from that COVID area, there are ways around this, so we can avoid further deaths from my colleagues.

"I've had some frank discussions with my colleagues who are from a BAME background and a lot of them are concerned, and they don't feel they're in a position to put their hand up and say 'I'm worried about this'."