Health inequalities: Ethnicity webinar

A summary of what was discussed at our second health inequalities webinar series focussed on how COVID-19 has impacted ethnic minorities.

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On 14 December we held the second in a series of webinars focussed on health inequalities and the impact of COVID-19. This session looked at how black and minority ethnic people have been, and continue to be, impacted by the virus.

The event was chaired by Cllr David Fothergill, Chair of the Community Wellbeing Board, who opened the session. The event kicked off with presentations from Justine Fitzpatrick, Head of Population Health Analysis for Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and Dr Raghib Ali, Senior Clinical Research Associate, MRC Epidemiology Unit from University of Cambridge. 

Justine presented on what the data tells us and the statistics behind the pandemic. Dr Raghib emphasised that this wasn't the first time Black and Asian people have been disproportionately impacted by health crises, as it has been seen before with swine flu. 

I served on the frontline in both waves and saw the impact that COVID-19 was having both on my patients and minorities, of course, and it was something very close to my heart.

Dr Raghib Ali

Owen Chinembiri, Senior Implementation Lead for the NHS Race and Health Observatory, outlined the work of the Observatory which is working towards tackling ethnic and racial inequalities in healthcare. They have identified several broad areas to focus on in its first three years:

  • Improving health and care
  • Protecting the vulnerable 
  • Innovating for all ages
  • Creating equitable environments
  • Partnerships and global working. 

Owen outlined the barriers to tackling the issue including political will, lack of resources and empathy. However, he noted that the tragic murder of George Floyd in the USA and the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in unblocking some of those barriers.

Everyone is paying attention and trying to do something about it. Our collective goal is to try and maintain this momentum.

Owen Chinembiri

We then heard about it from a local perspective, those speaking to communities and on the frontline. Noreen Akthar, Hub Manager for the Bradford COVID-19 Response Hub emphasised the importance of closing the health gap in Central Bradford, as the healthy life expectancy difference, which spans just 10 miles, was 20 years. 

Noreen outlined how they responded to COVID-19 in Bradford, door-knocking and listening to their communities to build a picture of how to respond most effectively. This was coupled with the creation of a local Scientific Advisory group to understand data and intelligence of local trends, issues and concerns. Noreen emphasised how important local intelligence was in order to inform how they responded, for example they realised that although there was national messaging about not mixing households, locally this needed further definition as a 'household' for certain communities meant three to four households of family members.

Once we built up a rich picture and brought it together with tech and intelligence, that exploded in terms of how we could respond to the different needs of our communities.

Noreen Akthar

We also heard from Dr Catherine Mbema, Director of Public Health for Lewisham Council, who highlighted the need for clear lines of accountability and young people's voices to be represented. She also outlined the work of Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) and their position statement:

Racism is a public health issue and something that needs to be tackled. 

Our last speakers, Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care and Vice-Chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board and Liam Byrne MP gave attendees an overview into the West Midlands inquiry into COVID-19 fatalities in the Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) community which involved speaking with 200 people. 

At the beginning of COVID-19, we were in the eye of the storm. By the end of the first week, we started to notice the fear within our communities.

Cllr Paulette Hamilton

The inquiry was established by Liam Byrne MP and inspired by Cllr Paulette Hamilton and Baroness Lawrence. The aim was to create a clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities in the region, to gather testimony about why the impact has been disproportionate and to develop recommendations for safeguarding communities for the future.

Liam outlined some of the heart-breaking stories they collected from the inquiry but emphasised the importance of having their stories told. 

We heard stories of people who chose to suffer in silence for too long and lost their lives because they didn’t trust the system.

Liam Byrne MP    

He concluded that although Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in the world, the power structures and governance of the city aren't reflective of its population. 

The report made 10 key observations from the testimonies and a range of recommendations for Ministers, MPs, the NHS and Health and Wellbeing Boards.