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New £2.1m UK study launched to investigate COVID-19 risks for BAME healthcare staff

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The University of Nottingham is part of a new £2.1m research study investigating the risks of
COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) healthcare workers.

The study has been launched after evidence emerged that higher proportions of COVID deaths within these groups were recorded - more than twice that of the white population.

Jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the £2.1m study, known as UK Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers (UK-REACH), will work with more than 30,000 clinical and non-clinical members of healthcare staff across the UK to assess their risk of COVID-19, based on the analysis of two million healthcare records.

A consortium1 of researchers, led by the University of Leicester, will follow a group of healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds for a period of 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.

Dr Laura Nellums, Assistant Professor in Global Health in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed significant inequities in the impact the virus has had on diverse ethnic groups, with concerns that healthcare staff from minority ethnic groups may be more likely to become ill, have more severe symptoms, and die from COVID-19.  For example, current evidence suggests that these individuals account for 65% of COVID-19 deaths among healthcare workers, though they make up less than 20% of these staff across the UK. 

This research represents an important opportunity to rapidly strengthen our understandings of if, how, and why ethnicity affects COVID-19 outcomes across a range of healthcare staff, including clinical staff like doctors, nurses, and midwives, and non-clinical staff like cleaners, porters, and kitchen staff.
Dr Laura Nellums, Assistant Professor in Global Health in the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham

Dr Nellums continued: "We will do this through a range of approaches, including linking staff data and healthcare data, following a group of healthcare staff from diverse ethnic groups over time, examining the legal and ethical implications of such research, carrying out qualitative research to better understand the experiences and perspectives of healthcare staff, and engaging with and involving communities of healthcare staff from diverse ethnic groups and national organisations representing these staff to guide our research and strengthen its impact. 

“The University of Nottingham will be involved throughout this work to rapidly respond to the need for evidence to reduce illness and death in these populations, and inform ongoing policy-making, and planning for subsequent waves and future pandemics.”

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

The UK-REACH study will follow a group of BAME healthcare workers for a period of 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 associated risks in their line of work. The study will also include non-clinical staff integral to the day to day running of healthcare institutions, including cleaners, kitchen staff and porters.

Researchers working on the Biobank study 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.

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 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.”

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.
Lord Bethell, Health Minister

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Laura Nellums in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at laura.nellums@nottingham.ac.uk; or Katie Andrews in the Press Office at the University of Nottingham at katie.andrews@nottingham.ac.uk

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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