Health & Social Care Committee: Dean asks about the impact of Covid-19 on health of ‘at-risk' groups

Updated: Apr 28

The Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee took evidence on the impact of Covid-19 on 'at risk' groups as part of their joint inquiry into lessons learnt from the pandemic response.

Purpose of the session

The joint committee took evidence on people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds as well as people with learning disabilities. These groups have a significantly higher death rate from Covid-19 than the general population, with many also being more likely to contract the virus and to develop severe illness.

Hearing from statistical and health experts, the joint session investigated what evidence there is for how Covid-19 is affecting these different groups, what likely factors are affecting unequal outcomes and which lessons can be learnt.

The Committees heard about the experiences of people with learning disabilities during the pandemic who have been estimated to have a death rate of 4 times higher than average.

The session also focused on the differing indirect health impacts on these ‘at-risk’ groups such as the effect of Covid-19 restrictions on mental health.

MPs questioned NHS England and NHS Improvement officials on the work being done to tackle health inequalities and what measures have been taken as a result of the pandemic.


  • James O’Rourke, family carer for a person with learning disabilities

  • Steve Scown, Chief Executive, Dimensions UK

  • Iain Bell, Director General for Population and Public Policy, Office for National Statistics

  • Professor Kevin Fenton, Regional Director for London, Public Health England

  • Dr Habib Naqvi, Director, NHS Race and Health Observatory

  • Professor Dr Ramani Moonesinghe, National Clinical Director for Critical and Perioperative care, NHS England/Improvement

Dean Russell Q1: Professor, earlier in the year, I asked the Secretary of State about support for those with disabilities, in particular hearing disabilities and those who are deaf, who have been having to use a charity-based app to be able to access certain care. I believe that is being supported from December through to March, but there are no guarantees further than that.

I just want to get your sense of what research and evidence there has been in terms of the impact on the deaf community in accessing services, especially where they need to rely on phone calls, for example; and what the longer-term plan is for that. As we look into vaccine roll-out and testing, it is absolutely critical that the deaf community can access healthcare in the same way as everyone else in the population.

Professor Moonesinghe: I am afraid that I do not have the information that you require on that. I will provide a written response later.

Dean Russell Q2: If you could, I would appreciate that; thank you. My next question is around the observatory generally. I am keen to understand what the long-term plans are. I appreciate that there are challenges at the moment and over the next six months, but what are the long-term goals and outcomes you want to achieve through it?

Dr Naqvi: The first thing to say is that there is an urgency of focus on Covid-19, but we are also looking ahead to the medium to longer-term things that we could put in place to have a positive impact on reducing the health inequalities that we see for our ethnic minority communities.

We are establishing ourselves but also, at the moment, focusing on the vaccine and, as I said before, looking at what we can do to highlight the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines and look at dispelling misinformation and mistrust, so that people can be well informed and make informed decisions around the vaccine. We are looking at maternity health and, of course, maternal mortality rates, which are higher among black women, for example. We are looking at mental health as well.

The observatory will do three things. First, it will bring together research, evidence and rapid reviews. It will then turn that into actionable insight and recommendations for the system. Thirdly, it will help and support the system to implement those recommendations on the ground. It is an observatory so, yes, it will be observing, but it is not passive in its function. It will be a proactive investigator that will look at deep-rooted issues in our health system and in society as a whole in order to transform the issues that we see with regard to health inequalities. It will do that in collaboration with other organisations going forward.