BAME doctors hit worse by lack of PPE

Doctors with BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by the chronic shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment) across the NHS.

This is the finding from analysis of responses to the most recent BMA survey of thousands of frontline doctors battling COVID-19.

Almost double the proportion of BAME doctors (64 per cent) have felt pressured to work in settings with inadequate PPE where aerosol-generating procedures are carried out exposing them to risk of infection. This compares with 33 per cent of doctors who identified as white.

Only four out of 10 BAME doctors in general practice said they had sufficient PPE for safe contact with patients with possible or confirmed COVID-19 or those with non-COVID-19 symptoms. A far greater proportion – seven out of 10 doctors who identified as white – said the same.

Stressed and afraid

These findings reflect comments by a BAME doctor posted to the BMA’s online portal, which has been capturing staff experiences since early March.

One junior doctor from a BAME background described being ‘stressed out, concerned and afraid’ of contracting the virus.

‘My colleagues are getting the infection one after another and going off sick, it won’t be too long for me to get it bad. Hopefully, it won’t be that bad or cost me my life.’

Another spoke of the pressure to use inadequate PPE with unsafe ‘donning and doffing’ techniques.

‘BAME doctors are dying from coronavirus in the line of duty. Most of them have underlying medical conditions. They are not being risk assessed nor tested.’

Different needs

All but one of the 17 doctors who are known to have died after contracting COVID-19 are from BAME backgrounds – a figure BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul has described as ‘disturbing’.

Dr Nagpaul has already called on NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens to investigate the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on people from BAME backgrounds.

‘We... need to ensure that there is sufficient supply of effective PPE to meet different needs, the letter says.

'Some doctors, such as Sikh and Muslim doctors, wear beards for religious reasons and we have heard they are facing difficulties in getting alternative respirators like PAPR [powered, air-purifying respirator] hoods when filtering facepiece 3 [FFP3] masks cannot be fitted,' his letter adds.

‘These doctors have [often] come from other parts of the world to provide vital care in our health service and they have sadly paid the ultimate price,’ Dr Nagpaul said this week. ‘I’ve called for this inquiry because these figures are not yet explained.’

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