“When can I be just ‘British’?”

A survey undertaken in recent weeks to report the impact of Covid-19 on “the BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] community” of Hastings and St Leonards includes among its principal findings that people labelled with this description do not see themselves as a single homogeneous group. Indeed the term BAME itself is reported as “creat[ing] a barrier to effective engagement”.

The survey was commissioned by Sussex NHS and has been carried out within the town by Hastings Voluntary Action (HVA), established promoters and co-ordinators of voluntary action by both individuals and community groups. The aim was explained to be part of an NHS “strategy to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are protected and looked after during the current pandemic”. However, HVA report some marked resistance to the BAME categorisation, “based on the unjustified need for there to be a category to define non-whites as a single homogenous group”. One interviewee is quoted: “When can I be just ‘British’”?

As HVA candidly admit, their research into Covid impacts has been limited not only by a short timescale for reporting back and by “operational restrictions” resulting from government guidelines for social distancing etc  but, more fundamentally, by the very low incidence of known infection in Hastings and St Leonards. 

Research has been limited by the very low incidence of known infection in Hastings and St Leonards

Given these limitations, it is not clear how one stated finding – that risk of infection from Covid-19 within BAME communities increases/decreases in line with socioeconomic factors, i.e. poverty, unemployment, education and immigration status, more so than with ethnicity – has been measured. The motivation of Sussex NHS in commissioning the survey was surely a theory advanced nationally – whether or not reliably evidenced – that BAME ethnicity increases Covid susceptibility.

No lasting change

However, another survey finding – that “effective engagement was hampered due to previous BAME engagement strategies and/or targeted health awareness-raising activities that did not bring about lasting change or ended without proper feedback or community consultation” – may be harder to shrug off. 

Among the summary recommendations in HVA’s report is that the NHS should:
• critically assess previous reviews, assessments and reports on BAME access to NHS services and effectively report back to the community on results
• support and train all frontline NHS staff to ensure fairer and better access for BAME patients
• strengthen relationships at a grassroots community level.

HVA’s Project Co-ordinator Marc Turczanski points out that surveys have also been carried out on behalf of Sussex NHS by other local providers on the same terms in Brighton and Hove and in Crawley, but no findings or recommendations have yet been released from those areas as far as he is aware. However, he believes that the NHS aims in due course to develop a single “strategy” for the whole county.

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