Covid-19 shines a spotlight on inequalities

By Gemma Howlett MCPara, Senior Lecturer in Paramedic Science at the University of Gloucestershire

4/06/2020

We have lost more people than I am able to comprehend and there is a sadness that hangs over me whenever I think about it, as I am sure it does many of you. We have lost colleagues on the frontline, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues. Stand down and rest in peace. I fear by the time this blog is released we will have lost more colleagues in green. Such a devastating realisation and something that no one should even have to consider when they sign up for the role. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. Thank you also to our colleagues across the NHS where we have again lost people who were trying to help us all. It is a sad time in our history and one death would have been too many, so the true scale of the loss is devastating. 

Amongst the sadness of this crisis, it is true that we have seen some amazing acts of kindness. Major Tom is just one instance of people doing everything they can to help others. We have seen people setting up community support groups, we have seen people donating generously with time, resources and produce to foodbanks. We have seen the beginning of brilliant initiatives like clap for carers, various community initiatives to support vulnerable neighbours and widespread donating such as food or hotel spaces for NHS staff. Our NHS, postal workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, teachers are all continuing to work and keeping the country going during this pandemic. There is lots to make us smile in these horribly sad and distressing times. But the sadness is overwhelming, this crisis has highlighted inequalities like nothing else has done for many years. 

The thing that I find simply inescapable and truly horrifying is the startling inequality that the virus has shone a spotlight on. The longer this crisis goes on the clearer it becomes that with what, and where, you started this crisis, will have a huge effect on how well, and indeed if, you come out of it the other side. This stark social and economic divide, and sections of society having such poorer health outcomes than others is not a society we should accept. Inequality is allowing the virus to sweep through these communities in far higher numbers than anywhere else. There is also a shocking difference in the number of deaths in BAME communities, which is startlingly high, both in the figures for NHS deaths and the wider community. As the news breaks of another death, you see another black, Asian or minority ethnic face. Nurses, doctors care workers, no area of the NHS appears to be unaffected. And then you see the news stories that feature others that have died, those not in the NHS or on the frontline and again the visual is clear yet more people from BAME communities, making up a startling amount of the numbers. The first ten doctors to have died of Covid-19, and two thirds of the first 100 health and social care workers, were from ethnic minorities. That translates to 64% of the deaths being BAME staff members, which is significantly disproportionate as only 20% of NHS are from ethnic minority backgrounds (Kings Fund, 2020).

I urge you all to open your eyes to this, to see these stark problems that exist both within our beloved NHS, but also society as a whole. There is a brilliant Guardian article that I urge you all to read that really highlights this issue. It is called “Coronavirus exposes how riddled Britain is with racial inequality”. The Guardian project that looks to stop and remember each of the health and care worker deaths, a look through the photos a startling reminder of the inequity that we are encountering. The amazing video called “You clap for me now”, urging people to not forget that lots of BAME community and NHS staff put their lives on the line too to help us through this crisis. Enlighten yourselves about these issues, seek to understand what is at play. Ignoring it and believing that everything is okay and equal for everybody is not an option anymore. Help change this path, help ensure that this inequality can no longer exist or thrive, do not let those in power let this matter disappear into the archives of history, but pressure on them to make meaningful change.

This is a systemic problem that is complicated and multi-faceted undoubtedly. But each and every one of us can start to open our eyes and start to accept that this is all our problem. “It may be hard for white people to accept that we are part of the problem. Almost all of the us as individuals will say we are not – It’s other white people, but in reality, we are all part of the problem and we should all be part of the solution” This, from the Kings Fund, reflects what I have written in my articles on diversity in Insight, and I’m sure to write again in further blogs. But the standard you walk past and ignore is the standard that you accept. We must all no longer just walk past. This applies to all inequality and discrimination, we can all be part of the solution, part of the change for the better. 

Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others, and #bethechange

Also read, in the June 2020 issue of Paramedic INSIGHT, Coronavirus, a health inequalities pandemic by Gemma Howlett and Imogen Carter.