A mandate for ethnicity to be recorded on death certificates is part of a series of measures introduced by the UK government as part of a review into the higher Covid-19 death rate among people of Indian heritage and other ethnic minority communities.
Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch made an oral statement in the House of Commons last week as she presented the first quarterly report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock on progress to understand and tackle Covid-19 disparities on ethnicity grounds.
The report follows an official review set up in the wake of a tabled in Parliament earlier this year, which concluded that older Indian-origin men fall within a higher risk category of coronavirus deaths in England along with other black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
The minister said: “Today’s report marks an important first step in our journey to understand and tackle the disproportionate impact of Covid.
“Access to the latest public health information and protections should be available to everyone. To ensure that is the case we have invested in a strong package of measures to target messaging, develop the data we have available and make sure everyone is as safe as possible at home or in the workplace.”
Besides an ethnicity column on death certificates, the other measures set out by the minister include a new “Community Champions” scheme, worth up to £25 million, to provide funding to enhance existing communication strategies in the most-at-risk places and communities. The national “Shielded Patients List”, or those deemed within the highest risk category and asked to shield at home, will also be enhanced for a better understanding of the risk factors related to the virus and the drivers of disparities.
Dr Rohini Mathur, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “It is vital that we understand the key drivers of the health disparities caused by Covid-19 and set out evidence-based, efficient action to tackle them.
“This report is a strong step on the path to doing this, highlighting important findings, dispelling damaging misinformation and presenting clear steps to address the impact of the virus on ethnic minority communities.”
The government said that since the PHE report, ‘Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19’, highlighted the ethnic variations within the impact of the pandemic it has taken several steps, including £4.3 million of spending on six innovative research projects to better understand the links between Covid-19 and ethnicity. An additional £4 million has been allocated for targeting messaging at ethnic minority communities and frontline staff from ethnic minority backgrounds undergoing risk assessment.
Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, Queen Mary University of London and Chief Scientist for Genomics England, said: “This important report into health inequalities and draws together important strands of evidence to highlight the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities by identifying the key factors that contribute to their increased risk of infection and adverse outcomes.
“These include household size, deprivation, co-morbidities and particularly occupation which highlights the vital contribution our diverse communities have made as key workers on the frontline during the pandemic.”