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Covid-19 in the community

Fears about being admitted to hospital during peak periods of the pandemic

This page explores the concerns that people had about going to hospital during peak periods of the pandemic. These were times such as March 2020 and January 2021 when there were high numbers of people catching Covid and dying from it. Covid-related deaths appeared to be greatest among people from minority ethnic and religious groups, and those in public-facing or frontline jobs.

 

Dr Jenny Douglas explains why deaths appeared to be greater among people from minority ethnic and religious groups.

Dr Jenny Douglas explains why deaths appeared to be greater among people from minority ethnic and religious groups.

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There is evidence from public reports that a higher proportion of people from ethnic minority communities have died.
 
There are a number of reasons why this is the case.

  • Long standing social inequalities mean that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be in jobs which expose them to the virus, such as working in health and social care or transport.
  • Racism is still a big problem in the UK, and this has an impact on health. People from ethnic minority communities have worse overall health than the white majority, which means that more people were living with other illnesses which contributed to them having a worse experience of covid.

 
Another issue is that there is a historic mistrust of healthcare systems. Many years of structural racism have contributed to worse healthcare experiences for people from ethnic minorities. Sadly, there have been a number of times in recent memory when people from ethnic minorities have been actively mistreated by health care institutions, particularly around the development of new treatments. This meant that some people were scared to seek help from hospitals at points during the pandemic.
 
These factors taken together start to explain why more people from ethnic minorities were worse affected by covid.
 

 

 
 
Concerns about going to hospital have lessened since Covid vaccination became widely available. Following the national vaccination campaign, fewer people required admission to hospital.
 
The topics in this section are: 

  • Fears about going to hospital, and dying there alone
  • Worries among ethnic minority groups regarding high numbers of deaths

 
Fears about going to hospital, and dying there alone 

Before vaccines people were frightened of becoming very ill with Covid and needing to go to hospital. Rabbi Wollenberg remembered ‘there was a huge fear of going into hospital’ at the beginning of the pandemic. Gulsoom and Sonal heard rumours that ‘once you go into hospital, you’re not going to come back’. Doreen said that going to hospital ‘would have scared me more than the virus’ and was frightened that ‘I might not come out’.
 
Because of the infectiousness of Covid, it was rare that family or friends could accompany or visit someone in hospital. Robert didn’t want to ‘be in a hospital where my family can’t see me’. Gertrude was frightened that she might die alone in hospital away from her children. The idea of being alone in hospital made Emdad worried about whether he would receive appropriate religious rites if he died.
 

 

Gertrude preferred to be at home with her son than risk dying alone in hospital.

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Gertrude preferred to be at home with her son than risk dying alone in hospital.

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I got my pulse oximeter you know the little pulse thing which we, I’ve got one at home, I took my pulse it was 82. Now at 82 that’s very, very low, 82 that’s where they were taking people in the ambulance and taking them to the hospital but I had sort of made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go into a hospital. If I die I chose to die at home and the reason being me working in the hospitals, my friends in London working in the acute hospital would tell me that if someone went into hospital with Covid you as a family member who wants to find out about your relative you would hardly get to hear anything. Because I know, because I work in the hospital and the phone would ring, you don’t have time to pick up a phone and talk to the relatives. They’re asking how is my mum doing and how is my dad doing, how is my whatever doing, you don’t have time for that all you have time for is to care for those patients that you have. So I didn’t want my son sitting at home wondering whether his mum was, is still alive or whether she was dead. I wanted him to know if I die he knows I’m dead because he’s there with me, knows I’m gone. So that’s why I chose that I’m not going to go into the hospital but I know that I have reached a stage where I really would have been taken to the hospital.


 
People were sometimes reluctant to ask for help because they were afraid of going into hospital alone. Robert was so fearful that even when he was ‘stood up in my bathroom gasping for breath’ the foremost thought in his mind was ‘whatever happens, don’t call the ambulance’. 

Worries among ethnic minority groups regarding high numbers of deaths

Throughout the pandemic there have been higher numbers of death among people from minority ethnic and religious groups. News stories reporting such headlines raised particular fears for people who identified as members of these groups.

 

Sunita heard in the news that deaths from Covid were higher among people of colour.

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Sunita heard in the news that deaths from Covid were higher among people of colour.

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I didn’t want to go back to the hospital because I was convinced that I had got the Covid from when I was in hospital. And I remember a lot of people saying to me that I was very lucky that I hadn’t ended up on a respirator because I know that, as a person of colour, I don’t know, there’s a term, BAME, whatever you call it. I don’t mind the term I guess it’s how, how you’re labelled but I remember seeing on the news that the rates of people dying from Covid is higher if you are a person of colour.


 
Doreen worried that these higher death rates were because minority ethnic groups were receiving worse care in hospitals. Shirin and Mohammed feared that they would be less of a priority for hospital staff because they were both older and Asian.
 
 

Doreen was concerned that people from ethnic minorities with Covid were being badly treated in hospitals.

Doreen was concerned that people from ethnic minorities with Covid were being badly treated in hospitals.

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Because originally when it came out and they say that it was black and minority people, the first answer was my first thought was black and minority people go in hospital, are they deciding oh, pathway. Why treat them let them die? And a lot of people think like that. And I know there’s lots of people wouldn’t want to go in hospital either, because once you, once that came out they were thinking, they were going in hospital, they weren’t really treating them, they were leaving them to die. Literally. And I had a friend who mum died, and she went in hospital and she had the vaccine, she went in hospital, she had Covid, she died and you know, you talk to the kids they’ll say they didn’t treat her, why she died. You know, lots of people still believe that black people and Asian people died because they weren’t treated, okay some did, because there were lots of black people who they reckon died through Covid. And they’re thinking, they’re just left to die, because if you’re a certain age you were black, they probably look and think, why give you all this oxygen and stuff, you ain’t going to live anyhow?

 

Mohammed and Shirin were relieved Mohammed received good care in hospital after hearing worrying rumours.

Mohammed and Shirin were relieved Mohammed received good care in hospital after hearing worrying rumours.

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Shirin: And then there was another negative things where you hearing from people’s experience, oh, I actually talked to someone who works in a hospital and he said to me, he’s a nurse in hospital [hospital name]. He was saying like, “You know, if you’re old and especially you’re from a black and ethnic minority community, they don’t really care. They just leave you at one side because they’re more concerned about the…younger people.”
 
Mohammed: Yes, we heard this rumour!
 
Shirin: Younger people. So, you got worried, and I said oh my God, I’m not sending my husband to hospital if he becomes with Covid.
 
Mohammed: When I, when I realised, I had Covid, I was somewhere reluctant to go to hospital. But my daughter forced me to go to hospital, she called the ambulance and sent me to hospital. I heard one of the story, in London, on my nephews says, one of the gentleman, he went to hospital with Covid, and after an hour, the hospital declared he’d died. And they were really concerned. The family was concerned that, they realised that the hospital is not really any sort of proper treatment, because of his age. So, I was really concerned. That’s why I was afraid, I was worried about, not to go to hospital [laughs]. Although, after I went to hospital I just said, they treated me well, of course.
 


 
Doreen and Shirin were also concerned for people who are not able to speak English well. They were nervous that anyone less able to communicate in English would be overlooked by staff. Even without a language barrier, this fear of being abandoned increased at times when visitors were not allowed, as friends and relatives who could have spoken up for them would not be present.
 
 

Shirin was worried that people who struggle with English would receive worse care in hospital.

Shirin was worried that people who struggle with English would receive worse care in hospital.

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I think the news that we had especially if you’re from black and ethnic minority they’re not able to speak the language, express yourself, and if you’re an older person, they just left you to one side and ignored you while they were dealing with other people. So, basically, hearing people who had actually gone into hospital, they were saying that kind of thing, so we, we became very worried with things. So, I was sort of like reluctant to send my husband to hospital when we did find out he’s got Covid and we all became positive, you know. And my daughter was really, her, one of her friends was a nurse and she was training to be a nurse in the, I says, “[Name], don’t worry, ‘cos I work there. Don’t listen to the people. They’re gonna not do that.” So, she said, “You sure you gotta be able to go and see my dad if something happens.” And she said, “Yes.” And then she said that, “Don’t worry, your dad can speak English. I don’t think there should be any problem. And then you can always have Facetime and talk to them on the phone.” So, we did send him after, but then afterwards, we were a bit worried that he was on oxygen for quite long, ten days. So, it was a worry because you hear of people, but thank god he came back.

 

Doreen feared that there would be nobody to ‘talk for her’ if she was alone in hospital.

Doreen feared that there would be nobody to ‘talk for her’ if she was alone in hospital.

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And another thing is, because you couldn’t have any visitors, who the hell was going to talk for you? You know, if they’re not treating you right, who was going to say “what are you doing? What are you giving that person? What are you giving my daughter or my husband?” Who’s going to talk for you? You had no visitors, who cares? I know what it’s like in hospital, I’ve been, I was in hospital. You hear somebody calling “Nurse, nurse, nurse.” Nobody comes. You’ve got Covid, you won’t be calling anybody because you can’t talk as such, so who’s going to come? You know and, lots of black people think like that. We’re not going in hospital because you know you’re not going to treat you. Probably leave you to die, and then they say “it’s Covid.” On your death certificate it’s Covid.


 
Gulsoom and Mudasar described ‘fake news’ that was generating further fear in their communities. These included messages warning people to avoid hospitals because nurses were trying to kill patients. Robert also heard rumours that hospitals would use Covid patients as ‘guinea pigs’ for new treatments.
 
Despite their fears, among the people we spoke to who were admitted to hospital, they generally felt they received good care, even when it was busy. Laszlo had a longer stay in hospital, and remembered how a nurse held his hand when he felt anxious. Rabbi Wollenberg felt that staff were ‘very nice’ to him, though he was still glad he only spent a few days in hospital.
 
 

A nurse sat with Laszlo and held his hand when he had a panic attack in hospital.

A nurse sat with Laszlo and held his hand when he had a panic attack in hospital.

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And I remember I had a very, very strong panic attack willing to just take the tube out of my throat because I couldn’t bear it anymore. And I just asked one of the nurses with a written messages that can you just sit next to my bed and can you hold my hand for a minute or two. And she was so kind. She sat next to me. She was just holding my hand. She wasn’t saying anything. And we stayed like that for like two, three minutes and that anxiety that panic just moved away and, as a nurse, being a patient probably this was one of one of those little things which reminded me that sometimes minor things that we do for our patients seem nothing for us but it means everything for that patient. And that nurse holding my hand for two minutes, in that moment, meant everything for me.


 

 

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