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New study investigates COVID-19 risks for BAME healthcare staff

This article is more than three years old.

A new £2.1m research study investigating the risks of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) healthcare workers has been launched.

Jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the £2.1m University of Leicester-led UK-REACH study will work with more than 30,000 clinical and non-clinical members of staff to assess their risk of COVID-19, based on the analysis of two million healthcare records.

The launch of the study follows growing evidence that the proportion of COVID-19-related associated deaths within BAME groups were more than twice that of the white population.

Dr Amit Gupta, Clinical Lead in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Oxford University Hospitals, is one of the co-investigators in the study.

REACH (UK Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers) will follow a group of healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds for 12 months to see what changes occur in their physical and mental health, how they have changed their professional and social behaviours in response to COVID-19, and how risky their jobs are. 

The study will also include non-clinical staff integral to the day-to-day running of healthcare institutions, including cleaners, kitchen staff and porters.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on all of our lives, but sadly we have seen that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately affected by this terrible disease. There is an urgent need to better understand the complex reasons behind this. These new projects will enable researchers to work directly with ethnic minority groups to improve our evidence base and, crucially, save lives."

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “I am deeply concerned by the disproportionate impact of this horrible virus on some minority communities. We need to find out what’s causing this, so we can stop these deaths. These research awards will give Britain’s scientists resources they need to answer the urgent questions behind these disparities so we can address the root causes and save lives.”

Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR Professor Chris Whitty said: "With evidence showing that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more severely affected by COVID-19, it is critical that we understand what factors are driving this risk to address them effectively.

“The diverse range of projects funded by the NIHR and UKRI will help examine this association in detail, so that new treatments and approaches to care can be developed to target the ethnicities most at risk. This research will have embedded patient and public involvement with Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups at all stages of the research." 

Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust is the chief investigator of the UK-REACH study. He said: “Globally, we have evidence that people from BAME backgrounds have a higher chance of going to intensive care and dying from COVID-19 – this may also be the case for healthcare staff. 

This is the first UK study to be conducted on a large scale investigating why BAME healthcare workers could be at greater risk of COVID-19. A recent PHE report [pdf] highlighted how 63 per cent of healthcare workers who died from COVID-19 were from a BAME background. We want this research to improve the lives of healthcare staff – to this end, we have a stakeholder group of major national organisations to research and publicise our findings.”

A stakeholder group of major national organisations including the General Medical Council, Royal College of Nursing, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, General Dental Council, NHS Employers and the BAME Professionals’ Association will help to conduct the research and provide evidence to policymakers so that decisions can be made in near real-time.

National ONS data shows that people from minority ethnic groups, particularly South Asian and Black and African Caribbean communities, are up to four times more likely to die from COVID-19, however the reason for this increased risk is not known.

Researchers will have access to an existing UK Biobank project already designed to investigate ethnic health, which includes a dataset of half a million adults. Through this application, the team will also have access to linked COVID-19 data, which will include test results, hospitalisation and mortality.

By providing greater context around the risk of COVID-19 to BAME groups, the study will help to inform public health policy in the future.