The report, published on June 2, comes amid growing calls from politicians, medical and trade union representatives, and the public, for the government to launch a full public inquiry into the issue of racial inequalities in COVID-19 outcomes.
The publishing of the PHE report has sparked concerns and anger that it failed to set out the concrete steps needed to address the issue.
According to the analysis in the report, people of Bangladeshi background face the highest risk from COVID-19, with a death rate double that of white Britons.
People from other BAME communities in England reportedly face a risk of dying of COVID-19 that is between 10% and 50% higher than white Britons.
PHE also studied disparities in coronavirus deaths according to age, gender, disability, as well as other aspects that might influence outcomes among people who have contracted the virus, such as occupation. Age remains the biggest indicator of risk of death from the disease, it said, and men were more at risk than women.
The health agency noted that for other indicators — such as age or gender — mortality rates were comparable to “inequalities in all cause death rates seen in previous years”, but ethnicity was different.
The British Medical Association (BMA), an organisation that represents health workers, has criticised the report for not offering recommendations about how this problem can be addressed, calling it a “missed opportunity.”
Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s council chair, told the Guardian that the organisation had been calling for a proper review and inquiry into the issue for two months — and the latest report did not constitute a solution.
“It is a statistical analysis, which while important, gets us no closer towards taking action that avoids harm to BAME communities,” Nagpaul said. “The BMA and the wider community were hoping for a clear action plan to tackle the issues, not a reiteration of what we already know.”
📺 @Zubhaque expresses dismay at the @PHE_uk Review's lack of recommendations to protect BMEs from #Covid19UK and explains why factors, such as deprivation,are key to understanding why BME groups are vulnerable to #Covid19@markaustintv@SkyNewspic.twitter.com/9KVktPslQq— Runnymede Trust (@RunnymedeTrust) June 3, 2020
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, first called for a public inquiry on the matter on May17 after data from the Office of National Statistics showed disproportionate numbers of BAME deaths from coronavirus. Khan told the BBC on Monday that “lives depend” on finding out why the virus disproportionately impacts BAME people, and asked what actions the government was taking to stop it.
Matt Hancock, the UK's health secretary, said in the daily COVID-19 government press briefing on June 2 that the report was “timely” — acknowledging the global protests against racial inequalities and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesotan police officer.
“Right across the world people are angry about racial injustice,” Hancock said, conceding that “much more work needs to be done” on the disproportionate death rates in BAME communities. While neither he nor Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched a full inquiry, he added that the equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, had been asked to further work on a response to what was happening, in coordination with PHE.
Hancock’s department was forced to deny the release of the report had been delayed because of official concerns of civil unrest following Black Lives Matter protests in the UK over the weekend and continuing this week.
But campaigners have argued that the report, delayed or not, is far from enough.
“This report doesn’t have a single recommendation and doesn’t have a single plan of action as to how it can prevent deaths and save lives, and in the context of this pandemic, it’s not only alarming, it’s traumatic — and suggests that BAME lives are not worth saving,” a spokesperson for the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, told ITV News on Tuesday.
Speaking to the House of Commons the same day, Hancock further acknowledged the inequality of health outcomes among different ethnicities, and talked about the higher death rate among the poorest people in the UK too — with previous reports having found that death rates in the poorest communities in the UK are double those of wealthy areas.
“Black lives matter, as do those of the poorest areas of our country which have worse health outcomes,” Hancock said. “And we need to make sure all of these considerations are taken into account, and action is taken to level-up the health outcomes of people across this country.”