Doctors from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are significantly more likely than white doctors to be asked to work on hospital wards without personal protective equipment (PPE), a survey suggested.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the results of the poll were particularly troubling as BAME doctors were almost three times as likely as white colleagues to often feel pressured into treating patients without PPE.
The same survey also suggests that many health professionals are exhausted and lack confidence that the NHS is coping with a growing backlog of missed, cancelled, and postponed care.
The findings were based on responses from 7497 doctors received between 16th and 18th June.
Concerns Over PPE and Risk Assessment
It found that only 29% of BAME doctors felt they were fully protected from contracting COVID-19 at work, compared with 46% of white colleagues.
Also, 7% of doctors from BAME backgrounds often felt pressured to treat patients without proper PPE, compared with 2.5% of white doctors.
Evidence has emerged during the pandemic that health professionals from ethnic backgrounds have been disproportionately affected by deaths as a result of COVID-19. Figures from March and April this year suggested that:
21% of all staff are BAME – 63% of healthcare workers who died were BAME
20% of nursing staff are BAME – 64% of nurses who died were BAME
44% of medical staff are BAME – 95% of doctors who died were BAME
Two months ago NHS England recommended risk assessments for all staff as a precautionary measure.
In May, NHS Employers updated their guidance on risk assessments to include ethnicity as a risk factor, along with age, weight, underlying health condition, disability, and pregnancy.
Of the BAME doctors who responded to the question 'Have you been risk assessed in your place of work to test if you might be at increased risk from contact with coronavirus patients in your current role?', 11% said they had been risk assessed in person, including by occupational health, while 47% said they had received a desk-based risk assessment.
That compared with 7% of white doctors who said they had been risk assessed in person, and 41% who had received a desk-based assessment.
The polling revealed that 36% of ethnic minority doctors were unaware of any risk assessments taking place, compared with 41% of white colleagues.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "It is extremely troubling that more than a third of BAME doctors still say they are not aware of any risk assessments at their workplace. Equally disturbing is the fact that BAME colleagues are nearly three times more likely to report feeling regularly pressured to treat patients despite not having the right level of protection.
"While the NHS has listened to calls by the BMA to direct all providers to risk assess healthcare workers who are most at risk, it is clear there is still much work to be done to properly mitigate against the risks faced by BAME staff."
The latest BMA survey also paints a picture of an exhausted health workforce pessimistic about catching up with a backlog of work and with fears it would be unable to cope with a second wave of COVID-19.
Asked 'During this pandemic, do you consider that you are currently suffering from any of: depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress, or other mental health condition relating to or made worse by your work?', 32% said yes, and worse during this pandemic than before, with another 13% saying yes, but no worse than before the pandemic.
Asked 'How confident are you about your ability to manage patient demand as normal NHS services are resumed?', 20% said 'not at all confident', and 33% said 'not very confident'.
Asked, 'What engagement, if any, has there been with you in your place of work/your local health economy, around how the increased patient demand will be managed as normal NHS services are resumed?', 10% said significant involvement, 40% some involvement, and 25% none.
Asked, 'How confident are you about your ability to manage patient demand if there is a second peak of Covid-19?', 19% were not at all confident, 31% were not very confident, and 36% were slightly confident.
Dr Nagpaul said it was clear that "the NHS is in crisis and doctors are fearful and exhausted".
He continued: "The Westminster Government has yet to offer any clarity or action plan of how the NHS in England is expected to manage months of cancelled or postponed care."
He said the BMA had seen figures showing that more than two million people were waiting for cancer care alone, with overall waiting lists projected to hit seven million by the autumn.