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A major £2.1m research study has been launched to investigate why UK health workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups have been disproportionally affected by Covid-19.
Academics at the University of Leicester are set to follow a group of BAME health workers for 12 months to explore and monitor changes in their physical and mental health, and how they have altered their professional and social behaviours in response to Covid-19.
The UK-REACH study (UK Research study into Ethnicity and Covid-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers) will also include non-clinical staff integral to the day-to-day running of healthcare institutions, including cleaners, kitchen staff and porters.
“This is the first UK study investigating why BAME healthcare workers could be at greater risk of Covid-19”
Dr Manish Pareek
It is one of six research projects in the UK on the topic of Covid-19 and ethnicity to receive a slice of a £4.3m grant from the government.
The UK-REACH study will investigate the associated risks of coronavirus infection in health workers’ line of work.
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.
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.”
Dr Pareek said this was the “first UK study to be conducted on a large scale investigating why BAME healthcare workers could be at greater risk of Covid-19”.
Those behind the project wanted the research to “to improve the lives of healthcare staff”, he added.
The study includes a stakeholder group of major national organisations to research and publicise its findings.
The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed the launch of the project and is a partner organisation supporting the study.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: “It cannot be right that black, Asian and minority ethnic health workers are not properly protected or are disadvantaged simply because of their race or ethnicity.
“Yet the anecdotal evidence of Covid-19 suggests just that. It is critical that we find out quickly why this virus so adversely affected our black and Asian colleagues, so that measures can be put in place to ensure their safety.”
But she also stressed that “as important as this study is, we cannot wait to act”.
“NHS workers, including midwives and maternity support workers, have made incredible efforts and sacrifices throughout the pandemic to care for those using our NHS,” said Ms Walton. “We must all do everything in our power to care for them.”
“It is critical that we find out quickly why this virus so adversely affected our black and Asian colleagues”
Echoing similar views, Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “Research is welcome but it’s no substitute for immediate action to save BAME lives.”
“Staff should be risk assessed and withdrawn from the frontline if that’s what it takes to make them safer.”
Redeploying staff to “areas of lower risk or paid leave must be an option”, she added.
Meanwhile, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “These research projects will be absolutely vital in helping to unpick and address the reasons why people from BAME backgrounds are suffering a disproportionate impact from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The crisis has cast an inescapable spotlight on racial inequalities, and it’s imperative that we take this opportunity to overcome this.”
NHS Employers is part of the stakeholder groups working with Dr Pareek and the UK-REACH team.
Mr Mortimer said the organisation was pleased to be involved in the research which would “help us to understand why BAME healthcare workers could be at greater risk, and in turn, lead to changes that could protect them”.
“It has the potential to drive major improvements in the lives of healthcare staff who have selflessly put themselves in harm’s way as the UK battles the pandemic,” he added.