Government accused of withholding ethnicity data relating to Covid-19 deaths amongst NHS workers

22nd June 2022

The government has been accused of refusing to disclose the demographic information relating to Covid-19 deaths amongst NHS workers in England, despite multiple Freedom of Information submissions.

The call for data is being led by health experts from Sheffield Hallam University. An original request was submitted in March 2021 to NHS trusts in England, seeking information for all staff deaths as a result of Covid-19 from 1 March 2020 to 15 January 2021 – with data split according to age; sex; ethnicity; date of death; job title; last NHS trust of work and region where death occurred.  

It comes as a ground-breaking research study, called Nursing Narratives – Racism and the Pandemic, uncovered ‘shocking and systemic’ levels of racism in the NHS. Key findings include:   

  • Four-fifths (77.3 per cent) of healthcare staff who challenged racism said they had not been treated fairly 
  • 59 per cent had experienced racism during their working lives that was so bad it made it difficult for them to do their job 
  • Over a third (36 per cent) had left a job as a result of racism during their working lives 

Neomi Bennett, a nurse who participated in the Nursing Narratives study, said:

“In the past three years of the Covid pandemic, Black, Asian and ethnic minority nurses have been exposed to a tirade of racism and discrimination. It's no surprise that this crucial information is being withheld. This government is not afraid to break the laws that they have created, so we at Equality 4 Black Nurses are not surprised that our government is desperately trying to conceal the truth.” 

Professor Anandi Ramamurthy, project lead from Sheffield Hallam University, said:

“The black, Asian and migrant staff we spoke to are determined to campaign for systemic change. We cannot move forward as a society without transparency and accountability. As a society we must know the truth of who was left more vulnerable and paid the ultimate price.” 

The Nursing Narratives research, which was carried out in collaboration with internationally renowned documentary film collective Migrant Media and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, involved over 350 black and brown nurses, midwives and healthcare staff sharing their experiences of racism through the Covid-19 pandemic and during their working lives.  

A documentary film of testimonies produced with Migrant Media is receiving a London premiere on Saturday 25 June at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. 

The film reveals ‘a story of systematic neglect and harassment which predates the pandemic’, and features nurses and midwives who have spoken out to challenge discrimination and advocate for change. 

Their personal accounts expose racism in the health service that led to black and brown nurses and midwives being put at greater risk than their white colleagues due to the wards they worked; the PPE provided; the training received; their workload and shift patterns; and the support received from managers. Testimonies include: 

  • Sam, a Filipino nurse who has left the NHS, said: “It was like bullying was part of the system” 
  • Roseline, an agency nurse, testified that black nurses were “Always being allocated in the red area with high risk Covid-19 patients” 
  • The victimisation that Rosetta experienced was “even more horrible than the pandemic”  
  • Neomi reflected: “It's bad enough to be racially abused by patients, colleagues, or whatever, but then not to get support … that has a really strong impact”  
  • When Gemma challenged unequal work allocation, she said she was told: “It beats being a slave” 

The London screening of the film, titled EXPOSED, will be opened by Yvonne Coghill CBE, former Director of Workforce Race Equality Standard Implementation for NHS England, deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing and member of the Race and Health observatory board. 

Yvonne Coghill CBE said:

“The fact is that the NHS would not be able to function without the commitment and professionalism of its hardworking black Asian and minority ethnic staff. So many nurses from diverse backgrounds have had bad experiences of working in the NHS during the pandemic is a blot on the service. This research will, I hope, be a step towards ensuring work is carried out to make the NHS a fairer and more equitable place for all members of staff, regardless of background.” 

A previous freedom of information request submitted by the Nursing Narratives team confirmed NHS staff demographic data is collected by individual trusts. 

Under the Freedom of Information Act, everyone has a right to request official recorded information held by a public authority. The authority must respond within 20 working days. 

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