NHS accused of ‘lack of urgency’ in addressing racial inequality

NHS accused of ‘lack of urgency’ in addressing racial inequality
Exclusive: Blood Cancer UK claims ‘shocking’ lack of urgency in addressing racial vaccine gap

The NHS has been accused by a major charity of failing to address the emerging gap in Covid booster vaccine coverage for racialised communities.

Blood Cancer UK (BCUK) has told The Independent it has “serious concerns” over what it claims is a “shocking” lack of urgency from the NHS in addressing the gap in booster vaccine doses for immunocompromised people from black and minority ethnic communities.

The charity has said NHS England has failed to set out any “concrete” plans since it revealed 84 per cent of immunocompromised people from a white British background had three vaccine doses by mid-December, compared to just 43 per cent of immunocompromised people from a Pakistani background.

The news comes after the government announced people over 75 and immunocompromised children would be eligible to receive a fourth Covid vaccine by the spring.

According to an analysis published by OpenSafely, a team of data scientists at Oxford University, of those who are part of the shielding population, as of the 22 February just 72 per cent of Black people have had their booster does, and 73 per cent of south Asian people. This compares to 89 per cent of white people.

NHS England has highlighted a number of actions it is taking to address the situation such as using pop-up sites within communities and providing free transport.

The figures published by OpenSafely, which covers 40 per cent of GP practices, shows the gap between white people , Black and south Asian people persists throughout the majority of different groups.

In December The Independent revealed people with learning disabilities had a significantly lower uptake of booster vaccines compared to the general population.

OpenSafely’s data for February shows a further gap between white, Black and south Asian, people with learning disabilities.

According to the figures 84 per cent of white people within this group have had a booster compared to 64 per cent of south Asian and 67 per cent of black people.

Speaking with The Independent Gemma Peters, chief executive of BCUK, said: “We have serious concerns about how the poor roll-out of third doses for the immunocompromised has left people from some communities much less well-protected than people from a white British background. But while it is deeply troubling that a racial disparity in access to third vaccine doses has been allowed to develop, just as shocking has been NHS England’s apparent lack of urgency in addressing it.

“Since we highlighted the issue three weeks ago, there has been no data published, and it has not announced any concrete plans to do better in reaching the communities with low take-up rates.”

NHS England does not publish specific data on vaccine uptake for the immunocompromised.

After receiving figures through a freedom of information request in December BCUK claimed NHS England has declined to share more up to date data.

The charity is awaiting a further freedom of information (FOI) response which NHS England confirmed it would respond to.

Ms Peters said: “The fact the NHS is not publishing data on this means we do not know if the situation has improved since mid-December.”

She added with the announcement this week on a further vaccine dose for the vulnerable “it is vital that the NHS puts in place measures to make sure the racial disparity is not repeated.”

In a statement to The Independent NHS England said: “Around 88 per cent of people who are severely immunosuppressed have had a third dose and actually the NHS publishes a range of data including age, gender, ethnicity, with more information published as it is verified over time. Those who are eligible can book their third jab or booster dose online.

“As the biggest and most successful vaccine programme in health service history has shown, getting communities vaccinated is a team effort and we would welcome BCUK’s support on this important matter.”

The regulator confirmed it would respond to BCUK’s request.

It highlighted that work has been undertake to increase vaccine confidence by translating information into different languages, holding regular webinars.

It also said it is using pop-up and walking in sites convenient to communities and have set up “jab cabs” providing free transport to vaccine hubs.