Barriers such as missing phone numbers, lack of privacy and poor internet connection adversely affected medical care for some groups, says Dr Latifa Patel
Samantha Wathen is the Press and Media Officer for Keep Our NHS Public.
An NHS doctor has described how access to medical appointments during the pandemic particularly disadvantaged certain societal groups at campaigning organisation Keep Our NHS Public’s People’s Covid Inquiry.
Dr Latifa Patel, who is BMA Deputy Chair of the representative body, but speaking in a personal capacity, said virtual appointments ‘almost discriminated against’ minority ethnic groups and those on low incomes at the session on May 5.
She said: “Where we couldn’t get hold of mobile phone numbers, these patients were being prematurely discharged. We know that those on low incomes change their mobile number more often.
“Appointments are meant to be private. Patients were making appointments in cars and in toilets. Not everyone could afford the space in their homes to attend consultations or isolate from their families.
“Space is a privilege. The whole motto ‘Hands, Face, Space’ was a privilege.”
Dr Patel also explained how there were further barriers which impeded some patients from BME backgrounds and those in receipt of low incomes from accessing medical care as patients required a good internet connection and some needed access to translation services ‘so communication itself was wholly unacceptable.’
Session six, entitled Inequalities and Discrimination, examined the differential impact of Covid and the pandemic on BAME people. Even prior to the pandemic there was strong evidence that racism, unequal education, job and economic opportunities, housing and access to healthcare has affected the health of people in BAME communities unequally.
The Covid pandemic and the role of key workers who carried on working, who could not work at home, and who kept the transport, health, and other services going, compounded all of these issues for BAME people and were reflected in the illness and death rate.
A host of leading academics, celebrities, campaigning groups and unions together with frontline workers and members of the public, are participating in Keep Our NHS Public’s inquiry into government actions during the pandemic in an attempt to learn lessons from the events surrounding this time.
In the absence of an arranged formal public investigation, campaigners believe that the time for a Covid inquiry is now, in order to analyse why this country has suffered over 100,000 deaths, and what lessons should be learned to inform future decision and policy making.
The three remaining sessions will take place every other week until June and focus on different topics relevant to the pandemic.
The People’s Covid Inquiry will culminate in a report with conclusions and a set of recommendations which will be presented to the government. Testimony gathered will provide the basis for evidence-based recommendations on the provision of health and social care in the UK, including the future funding and organisation of the NHS. Sessions are free to access and open to all.
Aliya Yule from the campaign group Migrants Organise, also gave her expert testimony on how BAME groups had been disproportionately affected. Yule said she believed migrants were scapegoated by the government for a lack of available public services and pressure on those services, and that in her opinion charging migrants for medical care was a pre-cursor to experiment with how charging for healthcare generally would be received by the public at large.
Yule also spoke about a person that had died of Covid at home and received no medical care as a result of being too afraid to access the NHS due to fears over his possible deportation.
She said this was a real concern over very unwell people accessing treatment. Even though treatment for Covid would have been available at no charge, other conditions, if identified, would be subject to required payment, and the rules make migrants generally both confused and fearful.
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