A note for all BAME colleagues working in the NHS

Supporting our BAME NHS people and communities during and beyond COVID-19

This week, we observed a poignant and emotional one-minute silence to reflect and to pay respect to all of the NHS people that have lost their lives to COVID-19. They will never be forgotten and will always remain with us. Every person we have lost has left behind friends, families and colleagues that are now grieving. These are our NHS people and we grieve as an NHS family.

We now know there is evidence of disproportionate mortality and morbidity amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, including our NHS staff, who have contracted COVID-19.

The data is important, but this is not just an equality, diversity and inclusion issue – it is an urgent medical emergency and we need to act now.

Our response

It is critical that we understand which groups are most at risk so we can take concerted action to protect them. The Chief Medical Officer has asked Public Health England (PHE) to further explore the impact of COVID-19 across different population groups. This includes work to analyse confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths relating to COVID-19 by ethnicity, where this data is available. Our key areas of focus include:

  1. Protection of staff (including returning staff), including improved risk assessments that specifically consider the physical and mental health of BAME staff. Simon Stevens and Amanda Pritchard wrote to the NHS to advise that employers, on a precautionary basis, should conduct risk assessments for staff and to act accordingly. NHS Employers have provided updated guidance for employers on prioritisation and management of risk, including ethnicity. We are working with local Freedom to Speak Up Guardians to ensure that all staff feel able and empowered to raise concerns safely.
  2. Engagement with staff and staff networks is being strengthened and prioritised to enable us to hear and learn from your lived experience, share guidance and of course, hear from you what actions we need to take and what support we can provide nationally. We have started a series of webinars with staff networks across organisations and disciplines using existing BAME, faith and other networks. The first was attended by more than 240 heads of BAME staff networks, EDI leads and Chairs and NEDs. The accounts and reflections were incredibly honest, powerful and emotional and we hope this is the start of a meaningful dialogue that will result in some real change across the NHS.
  3. Representation in decision making will ensure that BAME staff have influence over decisions that affect them. Data collection, including that which contributes to the WRES, was originally paused as part of the response to COVID-19, but has resumed. With scientific and anecdotal evidence highlighting that BAME colleagues are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, organisations are also being asked to review our COVID-19 Gold command and national governance structures for levels of diversity representation in leadership. Chairs and Non-executive directors will be expected to lead internal scrutiny and assurance at all levels.
  4. Rehabilitation and recovery to ensure there is tailored and ongoing health and wellbeing support during and after the crisis. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities is taking a significant emotional toll – both personally and professionally – when colleagues are already giving more of themselves than ever before. We are working hard to ensure that the unique emotional needs of our BAME colleagues are met, both now and beyond the emergency response. We are creating a bespoke health and wellbeing offer (including rehabilitation and recovery) in addition to the range of resources already available.
  5. Communications and media. We know that the contribution of our BAME colleagues is not fully represented in the mainstream media. In order to create positive communications from, with and about BAME staff and patients, we will start by creating short videos presented by our senior leaders profiling the role our BAME staff are playing and thanking BAME staff. There is also a campaign to ensure that all public health communications are tailored to reach different communities. This is happening now via social media, BAME leaders, influencers, radio, television and communication channels.

We will be sharing a framework of resources to support systems, trusts, commissioners and primary care teams to implement these actions.

We remain indebted to our NHS staff who continue to provide unparalleled quality care in these challenging circumstances. This is complex, difficult and emotional work but if we harness our collective passion and commitment to health equality for all, we hope that we can make real and lasting change for our BAME colleagues and our communities.

Dr Nikki Kanani is a GP in south-east London and is Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement. Prior to joining NHS England she was Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Nikki has held a range of positions within healthcare to support the development of innovative models of care, highly engaged clinical, patient and public leadership and is passionate about supporting primary care, improving service provision and population wellbeing.

She is a member of The King’s Fund General Advisory Council and holds a MSc in health care commissioning. With her sister she co-founded STEMMsisters, a social enterprise supporting young people to study science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. She has two young children.

Prerana Issar

Prerana Issar is the first NHS Chief People Officer. In joining the NHS, Prerana brings a wealth of expertise in leadership development and strategic talent management, as well as diversity and inclusion.

Prior to joining the NHS Prerana was Director for Public-Private Partnerships at the United Nations and prior to that she was the Chief Human Resources Officer for the World Food Programme. During this time leading the development of the United Nation’s first strategic human capital approach, as well as the reform of many key policies. Before the United Nations, Prerana worked for over 15 years at Unilever Plc, starting with them in India and then for several years was in global roles at Unilever’s headquarters in London. Her last role in Unilever was Vice-President HR for the Global Foods business.

Prerana gets her strong service ethos from her parents who were both in public service in the Government of India for close to 40 years. A proud mother to a teenage son and a younger daughter she says they keep her grounded with timely performance feedback on a variety of topics. One of the happiest days of her life was when her daughter was born at the Royal Free hospital in London, giving her first-hand experience of the NHS staff who every day deliver outstanding care to patients.