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Variations to COVID-19 risk for health workers revealed

A study has been released today, showing not all health workers carry the same COVID-19 risks.

Whilst there have already been a range of studies performed with respects to COVID-19 and healthcare workers, a groundbreaking study released today by medRxiv preprint is the first to comprehensively investigate all staff groups and workers across a single institution.

The major study was completed in collaboration with the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust and  the University of Oxford.

To gather data, almost 10,000 staff were tested and more than 20,000 samples were collected.  These samples were then analysed; with researchers checking for the presence of the active virus, as well as antibodies to the virus.

OUH Chief Executive Dr Bruno Holthof said:

“Thanks to the infectious diseases and microbiology teams, research nurses and medical students who worked tirelessly to collect more than 20,000 samples, we now have a detailed view of the infection prevalence in our staff. Thank you very much to all who have contributed to this great effort.”

It is already understood that healthcare staff are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but this new study has demonstrated that even amongst staff working at the same hospital, in the same ward, doing the same work – this risk is not borne evenly.

The Results

The results of the testing showed that 11% of staff had had COVID-19 at some stage. However this figure rose to 21% of staff working on COVID-19 wards.

The figures show that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff were at greater risk of infection than their colleagues. The overall figure for COVID-19 infection among BAME staff was 14.7%, compared to 8.7% for white staff. This figure rose to 17% for Black and Asian staff.

The departments in which staff work also played a role in their chances of contracting the virus. While those working in Intensive Care and the Emergency Department had infection rates of 9.9% and 12.1% respectively, the figure in Acute Medicine was 27.4%, and among porters and cleaners 18%.

Regarding these results and the findings relating to individual demographic groups working within the hospital, OUH’s Chief People Officer, Terry Roberts, said:

“From an early stage in the pandemic we have tried our best to put in place proactive measures to protect our all of our staff, whether through the provision of appropriate PPE, mandatory risk assessments by line managers and clear and timely communications – and this has included those working for outsourcing companies and agencies, such as porters, cleaners, catering and estates staff, whom we consider to be part of the OUH team, and whose health and wellbeing is just as important as that of staff employed directly by the Trust.

She continued:

“The Trust also put in place special steps to ensure that all BAME staff working at OUH feel safe and supported, including adding them to the ‘at risk’ group and advising managers on how they can ensure any risks are mitigated.  We also set up listening sessions to ensure that BAME staff could highlight any concerns they had.”

A new, and more informed infection prevention and control plan has been implemented across the Trust as a result of this report.

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