Hospitals assess all staff for COVID-19 vulnerability as BAME workers face higher risk

All West Herts Hospital staff will be assessed on how vulnerable they are to COVID-19. Picture: Crea

All West Herts Hospital staff will be assessed on how vulnerable they are to COVID-19. Picture: Creative Commons/Flickr - Credit: Archant

The level of vulnerability for all staff at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust – which runs Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals – will be assessed amid fears that black and minority ethnic staff may face greater risks of contracting COVID-19.

Workers will be reviewed against a set of criteria that includes particular consideration for members of staff from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, as well as age, underlying health conditions, gender and pregnancy status.

Those staff who are found to be at greater risk may then be deployed to different areas of the hospital.

According to the Trust’s new risk assessment criteria, being from a BAME background in itself wouldn’t necessarily warrant being moved away from an environment where staff could be in contact with COVID-19, however those BAME staff who are over 60 or who have a ‘moderate risk’ underlying health condition, for example, could be moved – as could those with a ‘low risk’ health condition who are over 50.

Nationally it has been suggested that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to die from coronavirus than those from white British backgrounds.

All six of West Herts Hospital Trust’s staff members who have died from the virus have been from a BAME background.

More than 2,800 members of staff have already been reviewed, including 1,100 from a BAME background, with plans for the process to be complete by July 10.

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The trust’s chief people officer Paul Da Gama outlined the approach to a meeting of the board on Thursday last week.

At the meeting it was reported that the risk assessments were among a number of actions agreed between trust bosses and members of the Connect BAME Employee Network.

In a written report to the board, chief executive Christine Allen said: “In June we met with colleagues from our Connect BAME Employee Network to discuss how we best manage the impact of COVID-19 on our BAME colleagues and agreed a number of actions including staff risk assessments, admissions to the virtual hospital and the creation of a helpline.”

At the meeting Ms Allen stressed the importance of staff from BAME backgrounds to the trust, and said the death of George Floyd had created a “pivotal moment” for all organisations.

In a written report, which she echoed at the meeting, she said: “The brutal death of George Floyd has brought into sharp focus the issue of racism, not only in America, but also within our own country and indeed within the NHS.

“Black Lives Matter is so much more than a slogan. What happened to George Floyd has created a pivotal moment for all organisations, ourselves included, to examine the way in which we manage diversity and ensure that we have a safe, equitable and non-discriminatory workplace which reflects our values.

“Nearly 40 per cent of our staff are from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background and without them we would quite simply cease to function.”

It was reported to the board that Ms Allen and board chair Phil Townsend had already sent an email to all staff about the relevance of Black Lives Matter for the trust.

That email says: “As an organisation we have made great strides in creating a workplace where colleagues feel happier and more supported, but we know that some of our BAME staff don’t feel this to be the case.

“This is unacceptable and we are committed to changing this situation.”