• NHS bosses draw up new targets in response to covid-19’s impact on BAME staff
  • Trusts could need to carry out new risk assessments and appoint new BAME leaders
  • The move comes as ministers also launch a major review

The NHS faces a new set of wide-ranging requirements as part of a comprehensive plan to mitigate the impact of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, HSJ has discovered.

A draft NHS England/NHS Improvement document, seen by HSJ, proposes trusts ensure every staff member has “a risk assessment to keep them safe”. It says the centre will provide: “Guidance and support to employers on creating proactive approaches to risk assessment for BAME staff, including physical and mental health.”

This would include an additional focus on the needs of returnees.

The plan also says: “A bespoke health and wellbeing (including rehab and recovery) offer for BAME staff will be developed and rolled out for the system (led by NHSE/I).”

Another suggestion in the draft guidance is that some BAME staff may need to be “redeployed” if they failed fit tests for masks. It says: “If a staff member ‘fails’ a fit test, as some BAME staff [are] reporting for face shape or facial hair purposes, trust[s] must certify and redeploy.”

Titled Addressing Impact of Covid-19 on BAME Staff in the NHS, it begins with “top five calls to action” (see box below). The plan’s development is a response to growing evidence that suggests the virus could be having a disproportionate impact on those from BAME backgrounds.

The PowerPoint presentation also sets out the risks the plan could pose. The two most significant ones are deemed to be that the proposed actions to protect higher-risk groups could impact workforce capacity, and that “buy-in” could be “diminished” if the programme is perceived to be an additional operational burden.

Further on, it suggests NHS leaders may have to “bridge the intellectual gap” on why paying particular attention to their BAME workforces is “especially important” during the covid-19 pandemic. The document also proposed that all NHS organisations with a chief executive should appoint a “BAME co-leader [as part of the NHS’s] commitment to BAME experience-led decision-making”.

HSJ understands that, although correspondence has been circulated internally, a final version is still being worked on.

The draft plan is being developed as ministers launch a review into how different factors, such as ethnicity, gender and obesity, impact people’s health outcomes from coronavirus. A report is expected by the end of this month.

The document said: “The purpose of this workstream is to better understand, and meet the challenges of, the impact covid-19 is having on BAME staff.

“A focus has been [made] on identifying the key actions that: [firstly] we can start immediately, and [secondly] will have maximum impact. Some of this work has already started.

“This is a system-wide challenge that requires a system-wide response.”

It has five separate workstreams, with many of the targets given a two-month deadline. Some have up to four months to be completed, while others are listed as “ongoing”.

There have also been proposals to resume data collection for the Workforce Race Equality Standard and Workforce Disability Equality Standard, both of which had been paused, while ensuring media interviews are “fronted” by BAME senior leaders from across the NHS.

Prerana Issar, NHSE/I’s chief people officer, told HSJ in a statement: “The NHS is quite rightly looking at how to best support our BAME staff throughout the covid-19 outbreak.

“This initial discussion draft aimed to stimulate debate and test ideas for this very complex issue. Some ideas in it will be feasible, and some may not be, but it’s right to discuss them. We’ve also subsequently corrected some of the draft data in the discussion paper.”

The “top five calls to action” 

1. Every member of staff, current and returning, will have a risk assessment to keep them safe (assured by PHE) – this is our commitment to looking after our staff

2. Every organisation with a CEO, and for primary care CCGs and ICSs, needs a BAME co-leader (assured by NHSE/I, CQC) – this is our commitment to BAME experience-led decision making

3. Diversity at every level of the health and care system starts with the podium, through our senior decision-making forums and across all organisations and at all levels of the workforce (assured by NHSE/I, CQC) – this is our commitment to diverse leadership

4. A bespoke health and wellbeing (including rehab and recovery) offer for BAME staff will be developed and rolled out for the system (led by NHSE/I) – this is our commitment to protecting the wellbeing of our staff

5. Every part of the system will use guidance on increasing diversity and inclusion in communications will be produced, led by the system (led by NHSE/I, gov) – this is our commitment to palpable inclusion and role modelling