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Signal of ‘greater risk’ of severe COVID-19 in BME populations

People from black and minority ethnic (BME) populations could possibly have a higher risk of developing life-threatening coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, new data has suggested.

According to a report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC), nearly a third of people who were critically-ill with coronavirus were from BME backgrounds. This is out of proportion with the UK’s general population, with 13 per cent of people being from BME communities in the last census.

Our ARC EM Director, Professor Kamlesh Khunti, first highlighted that these groups could face a greater chance of having a severe bout of coronavirus compared to white people based on anecdotal evidence.

This was based on hearing about the disproportionate numbers of younger South Asian people who were critically ill with the virus from colleagues working in intensive care units.

Now this anecdotal evidence appears to be supported by the ICNARC report, which was based on data on all confirmed COVID-19 cases critical care units reported to the organisation up to midday on April 3.

Of the 2,249 people analysed, 64.8 per cent were white compared to 13.8 per cent being Asian, 13.6 per cent recorded as black and 6.6 per cent described as other. Together the BME groups represent over 30 per cent, which is disproportionate compared to the population as a whole.

Furthermore, the report also investigated the backgrounds of those treated for non-COVID-19 viral pneumonia from 2017 to 2019 and there was no similar pattern. The BME populations made up 10.4 per cent compared to the 88.8 per cent of white people record – a percentage which sits closer to the UK’s BME population.

Professor Khunti, who is a Professor in Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, is a trustee of South Asian Health Foundation and also leads the Centre for BME Health.

He said: “We have been concerned about this issue based on anecdotal reports and now this data is showing a signal regarding what we have been saying. This is a signal but at this stage, that’s all it is. We now need more data, so we are therefore embarking on a mission to learn more through research.”

The ICNARC report came from data reported into the Case Mix Programme. This programme represents all NHS adult, general intensive care and combined intensive care, high dependency units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as some specialist and non-NHS critical care units.

At the time of the last census in 2011, 13 per cent of the UK population, equivalent to around 8.1 million people, identified themselves as black, Asian or minority ethnic.

Published on: 16 Apr 2020