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BLOG: #OpenDataSavesLives session on 3 December 2020

Stuart Lowe, Data Projects, Open Innovations

Our final and twentieth #OpenDataSavesLives session of 2020 on 3 December focused on COVID and ethnicity.

Dr David Whiting, Consultant in Public Health, Medway County Council, presented his research in finding out more about the Kent population in terms of ethnicity and COVID, and what this looked like at the start of the pandemic. Hiring a member of staff for six weeks to work with them to pull the various data sources together, it was surprisingly easier than expected, although some were easier than others to source. Research showed that some Kent wards have a greater proportion of non-white British backgrounds. Local level Job seekers allowance data shows the trend that in most districts non-white British groups are greater than those who are white British. David’s presentation highlighted the shortfalls in the collection of ethnicity data, for example, in inpatient data and with ethnicity being unrecorded on the death certificate for COVID patients. Work is underway to make recording of ethnicity as part of the death certification process mandatory, to establish a complete picture of the impact of the virus on ethnic minorities. This would involve making ethnicity a mandatory question for healthcare professionals to ask of patients, and transferring that ethnicity data to a new, digitised Medical Certificate Cause of Death which can then inform ONS mortality statistics." Quarterly report on progress to address COVID-19 health inequalities. A separate workstream at Medway Council is conducting a study on staff and ethnicity, in terms of looking at the proportions of staff needing time off due to COVID. David’s presentation can be found here.

When the data around the disproportionate impact of COVID started to appear, many ethnically diverse people couldn’t relate to the national narrative around deprivation and ethnicity. Dr Abe Mulla, Managing Consultant, The Strategy Unit NHS Midlands and Lancashire and her team carried out an internally funded qualitative study (based on eleven in-depth interviews), approaching people working in front line services and occupations. Clearly, the tendency in a quantitative respect to label something as non-white or BAME needs to go; to not make assumptions and to, instead, disaggregate data into more meaningful categories.

So is BAME really a useful comment? Some people will say that all BAME or non-white British people are suffering from historical victimhood. Conversely others will say that all BAME and non-white British people are all from differentiated cultures. So the question is do we group them all together or not, or we do we do so in certain circumstances but not in others? Professor Richard Webber, Managing Director, OriginsInfo Ltd, looks at different groups, levels of victimhood and discrimination and the historical events and experiences associated with these. There is now a good number of quantitative and practical reasons for believing that different groups should be considered differently when it comes to public policy. Richard demonstrates - at postcode level - name recognition systems which show the extent at which different minority communities are identifiable in given geographical areas; and how they can also be categorised, for example, by occupation and political engagement preferences. Richard’s presentation can be found here.

Watch the full session