Dr Anne de Bono, president of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, has said research is “urgently required” to gauge whether ethnicity, specifically Black, Asian and minority ethnicity (BAME), is a risk factor for contracting Covid-19 and for poorer clinical outcomes from the infection.
Her comments came amid rising concern about mortality rates of patients and healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds to Covid-19, and reports that NHS guidance has suggested BAME personnel be risk-assessed and potentially reassigned to duties that put them at lesser risk of contracting coronavirus.
Dr de Bono highlighted that there were there are “legitimate questions” to be asked about coronavirus and ethnicity. “Currently there is a lack of evidence as to whether there is a specific risk factor associated with BAME ethnicity which is independent of other recognised risks for Covid-19 incidence and adverse health outcomes,” she pointed out.
Within the NHS risk assessments by management are normally informed and supported by occupational health. “These have considered the previously identified vulnerabilities to COVID-19 incidence and severity, according to the PHE guidance, which includes older age, specified underlying health conditions and pregnancy – but they have not included ethnicity,” she said.
The faculty therefore supported calls for further research “into these complex questions”. Dr de Bono added. “Investigation of the risk factors for Covid-19 infection and severity is urgently required to inform our guidance on fitness for work, now and in the future.”
Separately, Royal College of Physicians’ president Professor Andrew Goddard has called for national guidance for employers on carrying out risk assessments with their teams to “be developed and issued as quickly as possible”.
He added: “There are a number of risk factors emerging, particularly being from a BAME background, being male, age and having pre-exiting health conditions. Risk assessments must be individual if we are to avoid further deaths of our colleagues.”