UK government’s work to tackle health disparities of covid-19

  1. Kemi Badenoch, exchequer secretary to the Treasury and minister for equalities

  1. Government Equalities Office, c/o Sanctuary Building, London SW1P 3BT, UK

I am writing to provide further detail on the government’s work to tackle the health disparities caused by covid-19, after the recent Public Health England (PHE) review and subsequent stakeholder report.123

I’m glad that a respected specialist publication such as The BMJ is taking the time to cover this important story. I strongly agree with the key point in your editorial that the PHE review doesn’t go far enough, particularly as “no original or secondary data are presented” and “the proposals lack detail.” This is why the prime minister and the health secretary have asked me to take forward further work to ensure everything possible is being done to protect our minority communities.

I’d also like to set the record straight on a misinformed narrative that is running in several publications, including The BMJ. I refer to accusations that the government “delayed” the review and even “suppressed” parts of it. The truth is that the government commissioned PHE to conduct an epidemiological review to analyse how different factors can affect people’s health outcomes from covid-19. There was no delay to this work, and it was published in full—as findings but without recommendations—on 2 June, the next available sitting day in parliament.

In parallel, Kevin Fenton, PHE’s regional director for London, engaged with many people and organisations in black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities to hear their views, concerns, and ideas about the effect of covid-19. This was separate to the epidemiological review and therefore had a different path to publication on 16 June. None of the content was removed before publication. As Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, has made clear, it was PHE’s communications that conflated the two pieces of work.

The findings of the initial PHE review are clearly concerning, and we are moving quickly to build a clearer picture of the disparities caused by covid-19 and the significance of and relation between the key risk factors. We will continue to focus on age, sex, occupation, obesity, geography, and ethnicity as we take this work forward.

As I set out on 4 June, some of the issues will take time to tackle. To support this, we are commissioning new research and analysis as well as examining the need for development of new policy. I will be working with the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to expedite this work.

Broader issues of racial inequality will be considered by the Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities, which the prime minister recently pledged to establish and which I will oversee. This new cross government commission will explore these issues and champion the success of black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups; it will report by the end of the year.

I’m very proud to be taking forward this work and I’d like to place on record just how seriously I am taking it. I am confident the new research and data gathered will enable us to build on what is already being done and help us to make a real difference to people’s lives.

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

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