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Study to examine disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on BAME health workers

by Awil Mohamoud
29 July 2020

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The Government has committed £2.1 million to fund research on the relationship between ethnicity and the risks healthcare workers face in contracting and dying from Covid-19.  

The research, which will be led by the University of Leicester, will involve following a group of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) health workers, including non-clinical staff, for a year to track changes in their physical and mental health. 

Researchers will also hold interviews with workers to understand the risks of their jobs, and how they may have changed their professional and social behaviours in response to Covid-19. 

Health organisations, including the General Medical Council (GMC) and NHS Employers, will be involved in conducting the research and providing evidence to policymakers to inform decisions. 

Six research projects

This is one of six new projects announced today (29 July), which have in total received £4.3 million funding, to explain and mitigate the disproportionate death rate from Covid-19 among BAME communities. 

This comes after two recent reports from Public Health England (PHE). The first confirmed some ethnic minority groups are up to twice as likely to die from Covid-19 compared to their white counterparts, after taking account of outside factors, including age and deprivation levels. The second found 63% of healthcare workers who died from Covid-19 were from a BAME background.

A University of Oxford study, which is looking to explain differences in Covid-19-related risks among individual ethnicity groups, has also been allocated £327k. Researchers will use over 40 million patient GP records in England to describe patterns of Covid-19 disease and death. 

‘Critical to understand risk’

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and head of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), 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 UK Research and Innovation (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.’ 

New lead for health inequalities 

NHS England also announced yesterday (28 July) that Marie Gabriel, chair of the North East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has been appointed to lead the NHS Race and Health Observatory (RHO).

The RHO has been tasked with identifying and tackling the specific health challenges facing people from black, Asian, and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds in England. 

It is hosted by NHS Confederation and is due to be fully established later this year, NHSE said.