The study, which is being led by the University of Leicester, is the first UK research conducted on a large scale to investigate why BAME healthcare workers are at greater risk from COVID-19.
It is one of six research projects that have received a total of £4.3m in funding to investigate the link between ethnicity and poorer COVID-19 outcomes. It follows Public Health England's recent report into the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities which highlighted that 63 per cent of the healthcare workers who had died from the coronavirus were from a BAME background. According to latest figures, just 20 per cent of NHS staff are from BAME groups.
The UK Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers (UK-REACH) will work with more 30,000 clinical and non-clinical staff from across the NHS to assess their risk of COVID-19, based on an analysis of 2m healthcare records.
It will also follow a group of healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds for 12 months to look at changes in their physical and mental health, how they have changed their professional behaviour as a result of the pandemic and the level of risk they face in their particular role.
Researchers are aiming to ensure that results are fed through to policymakers quickly, 'so that decisions can be made in near real-time', the university said. A number of organisations including the GMC, royal colleges, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council and NHS Employers will help academics conduct the research and highlight any findings as they become available.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a GP and professor in primary care diabetes and vascular medicine at the University of Leicester, led on development of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine's risk reduction framework for NHS staff at risk of COVID-19. He said that the UK-REACH study would help his team 'to develop and refine' the recommendations in the framework 'with the overall aim to mitigate further disparities in COVID-19 outcomes for ethnic minority healthcare staff'.
Publish Health England's report suggested that NHS staff from BAME groups were less likely to speak up when they had concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE), testing or other safety matters, which put them at greater risk from COVID-19.
During the pandemic 11 GPs and one GP trainee have died from COVID-19, 11 of these had a BAME background.
Mitigating risk to BAME staff
Chief investigator of the study Dr Manish Pareek, who is associate clinical professor in infectious diseases at the University of Leicester and honorary consultant in infectious diseases at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, 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.
'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.'
GMC director of strategy and policy Paul Buckley said: ‘The GMC is keen to support this important work and will play a key role, along with other organisations including universities, medical royal colleges, NHS organisations and bodies representing doctors. We hope that participation by doctors, and other healthcare professionals, will help increase understanding of this issue and provide robust evidence to mitigate future risks to BAME healthcare staff.’