Coronavirus: Filipino health workers 'need extra protection'

By Rhys Williams
BBC News

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Filipino healthcare workers "need extra protection"

Filipino healthcare workers should be given "additional protection" against Covid-19 so they can work safely, the Filipino UK Nurses Association says.

It comes after a major study concluded South Asian people were 20% more likely to die with Covid-19 after being admitted to hospital in the UK.

In Wales, seven of the 16 health workers who have died with coronavirus were originally from the Philippines.

The Welsh Government said a risk assessment tool was in use.

According to the study, other minority ethnic groups did not have a higher death rate.

Katherine Kabasan Rose, of the Filipino Association for Community Empowerment in Wales - who is also an agency nurse - said: "Most of us here are on the front line and that has scared us."

Mrs Rose, who has worked as a nurse in Wales for nearly 20 years, said she did not work during the first two weeks of the crisis but quickly decided she needed to help.

"I have the skills, why wouldn't I be involved? And I want to be there, that's the reason why I'm here, this is what I love doing," she added.

Image source, Family photos
Image caption,
Allan Macalalad and Dominga David both worked for the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

The UK has one of the highest levels of foreign-born nurses in the EU, with an estimated 40,000 Filipino staff employed in the NHS.

Mrs Rose said she believes the hard-working nature of Filipinos means many are unwilling to refuse to work, but she implored her compatriots to make their voices heard.

"I think for my fellow Filipinos here, I think we should be more assertive," she said.

"If you feel like you're unsafe then please, please don't go where you feel unsafe."

Filipino nurse leader Francis Fernando, of the Filipino UK Nurses Association, said: "I definitely think that Filipino healthcare workers and BAME staff must be given additional protection against Covid-19 so that we can work safely.

"A proper risk assessment is a good start and adequate PPE."

Image source, Geograph/ JThomas
Image caption,
Julius Sana died at Newport's Royal Gwent Hospital

Last week, Rizal Manalo became the seventh Filipino nurse to die in Wales after contracting Covid-19.

The 51-year-old father-of-two worked at Glan Clwyd Hospital in Denbighshire and was treated at the hospital's critical care unit before his death.

Coroner for north Wales east and central John Gittings said a full inquest was needed into his death because it was likely that Mr Manalo, of Rhyl, had acquired the virus in his workplace and issues such as the availability of personal protection equipment needed to be considered.

According to Mrs Rose, at the start of the pandemic, many Filipino nurses started wearing face masks without being told by their managers, but alleges many were told to take them off.

"Some of the managers asked 'why are you wearing a mask? You will scare the patient'. So obviously they have to obey because that's what the management says," she added.

In April, Linnette Cruz, 51, a senior head nurse at a practice in Sketty, Swansea, died as well as Leilani Medel, who worked as an agency nurse at several care homes across south Wales. Her husband also battled coronavirus in hospital.

Meanwhile, Julius Sana, 40, a healthcare support worker at St Peter's Hospital, Newport, also died.

Image source, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Image caption,
Rizal 'Zaldy' Manalo worked at Glan Clwyd Hospital and Abergele Hospital in north Wales

Colleagues Dominga David, 62, a nurse, and theatre assistant Allan Macalalad, 44, from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, both died on 26 May.

Lalaine Lopez Pesario, 54, who worked at Mumbles Nursing Home also died in May.

Last week findings of a major analysis were made public, concluding that South Asian people are the most likely to die from coronavirus after being admitted to hospital in the UK.

It looked at nearly 35,000 Covid-19 patients in 260 hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales up until the middle of May.

The researchers, from 27 institutions across the UK, said policies such as protecting people at work and who gets a vaccine may now need to change.

It is the largest study of its type in the world, and showed 290 die out of every 1,000 white people needing hospital treatment for Covid-19, while the number for South Asian people was 350.

According to Prof Ewen Harrison, from the University of Edinburgh, around 40% of South Asian patients in hospital due to Covid-19 had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes compared with 25% of white groups.

Researchers believe this is a major factor.

A Welsh government spokesman said: "Employers have a duty of care to protect people's health and safety at work, which includes understanding the risk from Covid-19.

"The Covid-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool has been developed by the BAME expert advisory group and is in use across the NHS in Wales and social care settings.

"This two-stage assessment is designed to help people understand their individual risk to be followed by a conversation with employers about their individual risk factors and the specific actions which can be taken to help reduce those risks at work."

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