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UK doctors' coronavirus deaths highlight crucial role of BAME medics

Tributes point to fact that first four to die were all from minority ethnic backgrounds

Amged el-Hawrani, 55, died in hospital in Leicester




Amged el-Hawrani, 55, died in hospital in Leicester.
Photograph: University Hospitals of Derby an/AFP via Getty Images

As tributes were paid to the first four doctors who died from coronavirus in the UK, it did not go unnoticed that, profession apart, they also had another striking similarity – they were all from a BAME background.

Dr Alfa Saadu, 68, Amged el-Hawrani, 55, and Adil El Tayar, 64 and GP Dr Habib Zaidi, 76, had ancestry in regions including Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Olamide Dada, the founder of Melanin Medics, said black, Asian and minority ethnic doctors often featured in negative stories, for example about racism, but the details of their work on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus showed they deserved to be treated with respect.

“This shows that they just wanted to serve, their contributions are equally important as the next person, whether they have been born in the UK or not,” she said.

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The fact that the first doctors to die were all from BAME backgrounds is less surprising when placed in the context of the makeup of the NHS workforce. As of March 2019, 20% of the more than 1.2 million staff employed by the health service were BAME, compared with 14% of the general population of England and Wales (based on the last census).

The proportion increases to 44% when it comes to medical staff. The latest figures show that 43% of senior NHS doctors and 47% of junior doctors were BAME as of March last year.

Dr Habib Zaidi


Dr Habib Zaidi, who died from coronavirus aged 76. Photograph: NHS CGC

Sajda Mughal, the chief executive of the Jan Trust, which works with women from BAME backgrounds, said: “It’s highlighting the big contribution to the NHS. They are on the frontline saving lives. Unfortunately, they lost their lives. I’d like to see more funding for the NHS but also more support for BAME communities because this shows how vital they are to British society.”

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Many of those who have died who are from the NHS were people who came to this country to make a difference, and they did, and they’ve given their lives in sacrifice, and we salute them.”

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It was a far cry from the language of the now abandoned “hostile environment”. Just over two years ago, during a four-month period, more than 1,500 visa applications from doctors with job offers in the UK were reportedly refused as a result of a cap on the number of tier two visas issued to workers from outside the European Economic Area.

Despite their contribution, ethnic minority medics have often struggled for equal treatment. Doctors from BAME communities are too often viewed as outsiders by their NHS bosses and peers and not given the support they need, according to a report published last year, which was commissioned by the General Medical Council to examine why they are twice as likely to face disciplinary action as white doctors.

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