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Study: demographic factors likely to increase COVID-19 risk in ethnic minority healthcare staff

The differences in COVID-19 infection risk between ethnic minority healthcare workers and their white colleagues is likely due to home and work factors rather than biology, according to the largest and most detailed study on the subject.

When other risk factors are taken into account, there is no significant difference in the likelihood of COVID-19 infection between ethnic minority and white healthcare workers, the pre-print study reported.

A total 10,772 staff took part in the UK-wide study, including 71 from Berkshire Healthcare.

The new results build on previous findings of a higher infection risk for healthcare workers from ethnic minority groups by identifying that demographic and lifestyle factors, including job role, age and attending religious gatherings, accounted for their heightened risk compared to white colleagues.

Results from the UK-REACH study, co-funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation, showed that healthcare workers’ risk of catching coronavirus increased in correlation with the level of exposure to infected patients. Other risk factors included a lack of PPE access and sharing living or working environments with other key workers.

Geographical differences were also seen, with healthcare workers in Scotland and South West England at lower risk of infection compared with those in the West Midlands. Intensive care unit staff were also at lower risk than those in other hospital settings.

Dr Christopher Martin, author of the study, said: “We identified key risk factors associated with COVID-19 infection amongst UK healthcare workers – such as younger age, job role and living with other key workers. Healthcare workers from black ethnic groups in our study were younger, more likely to work in settings such as inpatient care, more likely to see a higher number of COVID-19 patients and less likely to report access to appropriate PPE at all times than white colleagues. They were also more likely to live with other key workers and in areas of greater deprivation. 

“All these factors increase their risk of COVID-19. However, once these factors were accounted for, the difference in infection risk between black and white healthcare workers was negligible, suggesting that differences in work and home lives of ethnic minority healthcare workers – some of which are linked to inequalities more generally – are driving differing infection rates. These important findings should inform policies, including targeted vaccination strategies and risk assessments aimed at protecting healthcare workers in future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Read more on the NIHR website