Lack of data on ethnic minorities and Covid ‘dangerous’

Megan Baynes, PA
·3-min read

The lack of data taken around ethnic minorities in Britain during the pandemic could be putting lives at risk, health experts have warned.

Research has shown a disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority communities, but some leading medics fear not enough information is being gathered by the NHS and other public bodies to fully understand the risks to specific groups.

Salman Waqar, from the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA), said research funded so far “barely scratched the surface when it comes to ethnic inequality”.

Dr Waqar said he felt an opportunity had been missed to ensure measures to better record and collect data were in place ahead of the second wave of coronavirus this winter.

Dr Salman Waqar
Dr Salman Waqar (British Islamic Medical Association/PA)

He said: “What more is necessary to make us realise we need to be monitoring these disparities closely?

“We need clear leadership from NHS bodies on actions that will protect minority communities. Without real-time transparent data, how will we know if they are performing the task?”

Approximately 12% of the British adult population is from an ethnic minority background, but these communities have experienced higher rates of infection and mortality during the pandemic.

A report from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee found pre-existing inequalities created a “perfect storm” of factors which exacerbated the impact on BAME communities.

However, committee chair Caroline Nokes also criticised the Government for failing to show a “sustained effort to capture a full picture” of the issue, and a “resistance to deploy resources for data collection”.

GP Dr Raj Kumar said the lack of available data was “dangerous”.

“We don’t use the word dangerous lightly, but we are dealing with lives,” he told the PA news agency.

Dr Raj Kumar
Dr Raj Kumar (Handout/PA)

Dr Kumar is chairman of the NHS Clinical Leaders Network and is helping oversee a study looking at how people from ethnic minority backgrounds feel about the vaccine in Cheshire and Merseyside.

“Data to me means intelligence and it means we can put targeted approaches into saving lives,” he said.

Some data has been collected by public bodies to help understand the causes, including a June report looking at disparities in risks and outcomes by Public Health England and research in September that found higher levels of mortality with Covid among black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

In October, minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch announced funding for six research projects to better understand the links between Covid-19 and ethnicity and it was also made mandatory for ethnicity to be recorded on death certificates.

Edna Boampong, deputy director of communications and engagement at the partnership, said there are also “major differences” in how specific minority groups are affected by the virus, adding that the term “BAME” tends to group everyone together.

Edna Boampong
Edna Boampong (Handout/PA)

She said: “I’m Ghanaian but my community and culture is very different to Nigerians, and it’s different to people from the West Indies. So you can’t make assumptions just because we are all black.

“You need to be able to almost segment communities. So that’s the reason why it’s so important to collect really robust data and be able to drill down because there are huge differences within each ethnicity group.”