Ministers face claims of treating BAME health and care staff as ‘cannon fodder’

NHS and care workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have been treated like “cannon fodder” during the Covid-19 pandemic, ministers have been told.

Labour’s Rushanara Ali (pictured) also demanded an apology from care minister Helen Whately after it was reported she wrote student nurses in training are “supernumerary and are not deemed to be providing a service”.

Ms Ali’s remarks came as MPs debated calls by members of the public to reward health and care workers on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis.

Petitions relating to Covid-19 have received more than 4.6 million signatures, including 290,000 calling on the Government to “reward those caring for us and our loved ones at this time of national need”, according to Petitions Committee chairwoman and Labour MP Catherine McKinnell.

Ms McKinnell said NHS workers needed a pay rise, or for student debt to be written off.

She said: “One NHS worker wrote to me to say ‘I’ve heard whisperings of NHS staff getting medals after the pandemic. Please don’t let this happen, it’s utterly ridiculous when we’re working in understaffed and under-resourced settings. For money to be spent on medals is outrageous’.”

Meg Hillier, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Public Affairs Select Committee said: “Medals don’t put food on the table and there are many people working in our NHS and social care settings who work through agencies and are paid minimum wage or less.”

Conservative MP Tom Randall (Gedling) highlighted one of his constituents suggested a medal for NHS workers, telling the Commons: “I understand the Cabinet Office is looking into that measure.”

Ms Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) earlier told the same debate: “Unison predicts that we’ll need another million extra care workers by 2025, it is vital we learn the lessons now and make sure we have a resilient, well-resourced NHS where people are properly rewarded and recognised, where their skills and expertise are recognised rather than being treated shoddily which is what we’ve seen.

“We also need to make sure that junior doctors are properly rewarded. (The Government’s) behaviour in recent years was appalling and yet these doctors, nurses and carers have been the people on the front line saving people’s lives and protecting us.

“And we also know that BAME NHS workers and care workers have had the highest death rate and yet the Government has been inadequate in protecting them.

“To be frank, the Government has treated them like cannon fodder and the fact that it doesn’t have proper recommendations is scandalous and they need to get a grip before more lives are lost.

“If the minister thinks health workers and care workers should be protected she should act instead of saying appalling things about them, and I hope she’ll apologise for the remarks she made recently about care staff.”

Tory Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) suggested a memorial event should be held in Whitehall to celebrate the heroism of health and social care staff.

Mr Stafford told MPs: “I believe this proposal merits serious consideration too and should be taken forward.

“Ultimately, it is of the uttermost importance that this House pursues all avenues, including looking at pay and rewards, in recognising and rewarding the heroism of our health and social care workers, and the selflessness of those who have helped the NHS both in Rother Valley and across the United Kingdom.

“Without them, we would not have been able to pull through this crisis.”

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