NHS England and the NHS Confederation have established a new centre to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on health, amid significant concerns about the disproportionate affect of COVID-19 on people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.

The NHS Race and Health Observatory is tasked with identifying and tackling the specific health challenges facing those with BAME origin, providing analysis and policy recommendations to improve health outcomes for NHS patients, communities and staff.

The independent body, which will be hosted by the NHS Confederation, will first set up a steering group with the aim of being fully established this year.

The move follows the recent release of figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the greater risk of novel coronavirus to BAME communities, including that black males are 4.2 times more likely to die and black females 4.3 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than those of white background.

Similarly, men of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin were 3.6 times more likely to have a COVID-19-related death, while the figure for women was 3.4 times more likely.

“Addressing health inequalities needs a concerted effort from all of us and this means facing up to how we can tackle the health inequalities that COVID-19 has brought into stark relief, which is why the race observatory is an important step, and we need everyone to support this society-wide change,” Prerana Issar, chief people officer at NHS England.

“The impact of COVID-19 on black and minority ethnic communities and healthcare staff has shone the brightest of lights on racial inequalities and their root causes,” added Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of NHS Confederation.

“The NHS Race and Health Observatory will be critical in identifying and helping to transform the disproportionate effects that race is having on patients, communities and NHS staff. This has the potential to be a step-change towards a new era of greater equality.”