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RCEM Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee Statement: Ethnic disparities in accessing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during Covid-19

December 2020

We are proud to represent a diverse speciality of nearly 10,000 people working in Emergency Medicine as doctors, ACPs and nurses. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the College has been concerned about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) membership[1]. In May 2020, RCEM ran a survey to better understand the experiences of its Members and Fellows during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey revealed stark disparities between ethnic groups in access to PPE and testing.

The results of the survey, alongside George Floyd’s tragic murder by the hands of the police and the subsequent waves of antiracism protests across the UK prompted the College to have difficult conversations about racism in the specialty and the NHS and the actions we can take to eliminate it.

The College proceeded to establish an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, to support equity and in acknowledgement of differential attainment for different groups across the NHS and from within the RCEM membership. In October 2020, the co-chairs of the newly formed EDI Committee decided to focus on the differences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues in more detail, to understand what is driving the disparities in access to PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although access to and supply of PPE appears to be less of concern at this stage of the pandemic, these issues may not be fully resolved for all and may be further exacerbated in the case of future shortages of PPE or increases in Covid-19 activity. With 95% of medical staff who have sadly died from Covid-19 being of BAME background1 the EDI Committee is committed to ensure this vital and possibly lifesaving information is fully understood. So that we might act where ethnic disparities in accessing PPE exist, to ensure BAME colleagues are protected at work as we move into the peak of the second wave of this pandemic.

Furthermore, the unprecedented times in which we live have shined a light on and exacerbated pre-existing racial inequalities that the College and EDI Committee acknowledge. We will soon publish a paper looking at ethnic minority disparities in access to PPE to help guide the work of the new committee to take this forward. We will share this work with you to ensure it is transparent and so you have confidence we are working towards a more equitable future for all colleagues in Emergency Medicine and therefore for our patients as well.

Actions the EDI Committee are taking forward:

  1. Issuing this statement to highlight the newly formed EDI Committee and its work to demonstrate transparency and honesty in the face of difficult conversations where we are not equitably supporting all colleagues.
  2. Issuing an accompanying Safety Flash to ensure colleagues are prompted to discuss and assess any possible PPE inequality within their teams and highlight the risks they pose to the lives of our colleagues.
  3. Re-issuing the RCEM PPE survey to evaluate any change in PPE access amongst BAME staff and trying to go into further detail to understand the impacts of PPE access on BAME and D/deaf colleagues.[2]

We appreciate your involvement and understanding of these issues and offer this statement as a commitment to every RCEM member and our patients, to act honestly and with transparency, while championing equity for all.

RCEM EDI Committee and Co-Chairs David Chung & Hodon Abdi

[1] We use the term ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’ for practical reasons. We acknowledge the limitations of this phrase and recognise the diverse and heterogeneous experiences of people across and within different ethnic groups.

[2] D/deaf – Deaf (sign language users) and deaf (who are hard of hearing but who have English as their first language and may lipread and/or use hearing aids).

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