Call for rapid inquiry into BME coronavirus imbalance

A promised inquiry into why a disproportionate number of people of black and minority ethnic (BME) origin have become ill or died from coronavirus must be “swift and thorough,” the chief executive of a leading housing association has argued.

Ali Akbor OBE, who has headed Leeds-based Unity Home and Enterprise for more than two decades, said it was important to “learn lessons and act now” rather than wait until the Covid-19 threat had diminished.

A study published earlier this month by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) found that 35% of almost 2,000 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 were non-white.

This despite only 14% of people in England and Wales being from BME backgrounds, according to the 2011 census.

Days after the ICNARC report was released, the Government announced an official inquiry into why individuals of black and minority ethnic origin appear to be disproportionately affected by coronavirus.

Downing Street said that NHS England and Public Health England would be leading the investigation, although no further details were given on its terms of reference or timeframe.

Mr Akbor, who also serves as Secretary/Treasurer of BME National which represents more than 40 BNE-led housing associations in England, said the inquiry should proceed without delay.

He commented:

“I fully appreciate that Government Ministers, NHS England and Public Health England are incredibly busy in tackling coronavirus and saving lives.

“However, the promised inquiry into why such a disproportionate number of BME citizens are becoming infected and dying from the disease must be a component part of these efforts.

“It is frequently said by medical and scientific experts that coronavirus does not discriminate in who it chooses to attack. Boris Johnson’s illness is proof of this, and I wish him well in his recovery.

“But it is a statistical fact that black and minority ethnic people are most likely to become infected, alongside the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

“The country is well aware of the terrible number of BME doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus whilst working for the NHS where more than 40% of medical staff are of black and minority ethnic origin.

“There is much less public understanding of the deep suffering in the wider BME population with such a high proportion of individuals becoming sick and losing their lives after contracting Covid-19.

“BME communities are often plagued by acute levels of social deprivation which impact on people’s health. That is surely part of the explanation for why coronavirus is so prevalent in areas with large numbers of BME residents.  

“But there are clearly other reasons which only a properly-constituted inquiry can identify.

“The Government must fulfil its promise, get the inquiry underway and begin the process of finding answers. Lives can still be saved.”   

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