Six new research projects, backed by government funding, have been launched to investigate why people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.
The projects include a £2.1 million University of Leicester-led study which will investigate the risks of COVID-19 to BME health and social care workers, who have been significantly overrepresented among the deaths from the virus.
The study, known as UK-REACH (UK Research Study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers), will calculate the risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 for ethnic minority healthcare workers, with access to over two million healthcare records held by national healthcare organisations.
This group of healthcare workers will include non-clinical staff integral to the day-to-day running of healthcare institutions, including cleaners, kitchen staff and porters. It will follow a group of healthcare workers from BME backgrounds over 12 months to see what changes occur in their physical and mental health.
In addition, the study will interview a smaller group of healthcare workers to understand the risks of their jobs and how they may have changed their professional and social behaviours in response to COVID-19.
A stakeholder group of major national organisations, including the NHS Confederation, will help to conduct the research and provide evidence to policymakers so that decisions can be made.
It follows stark evidence of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BME healthcare professionals. An April 2020 briefing from the NHS Confederation’ s BME Leadership Network called for further work identify why people from BME backgrounds are at higher risk of developing COVID-19 and dying from the virus.
Welcoming the announcement, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “These research projects will be absolutely vital in helping to unpick and address the reasons why people from BME 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.
“We are pleased to be part of the stakeholder group working with Dr Pareek and UK-REACH, as this research will help us to understand why BME 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.”
UK-REACH is one of six projects launched on 29 July to improve understanding of the links between COVID-19 and ethnicity funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
In May 2020, the NHS Confederation and NHS England and NHS Improvement launched the NHS Race and Health Observatory. Its aim is to identify and tackle the specific health challenges facing people from BME backgrounds. The Observatory, chaired by Marie Gabriel CBE, will involve experts from this country and internationally, and will offer analysis and policy recommendations to improve health outcomes for NHS patients, communities and staff.