New tool launched to reduce frontline NHS staff deaths from COVID-19

A new tool to reduce the number of frontline NHS staff deaths from COVID-19 has been launched across the health service today.

An expert group led by Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, developed a new Risk Reduction Framework for NHS staff who are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, including those who are male, pregnant, older with long term health conditions, and from a BAME background.

The guidance specifically details the high proportion of BAME NHS staff deaths from COVID-19; out of 106 deaths, 94% of doctors and dentists that died were from a BAME background, 71% of nurses and midwives, 56% of healthcare workers and 29% of other staff. The NHS is estimated to employ approximately 1.2 to 1.5 million staff - among all staff employed by the NHS, BAME account for approximately 21%. 

Professor Khunti said: “There is an urgent need for a greater level of understanding as to why workers, and indeed patients including those from a BAME background, appear to have a disproportionately increased morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 infection.

"The framework complements existing NHS guidance and takes into account the emerging evidence that comorbidities combined with ethnicity may be associated with increased vulnerability to COVID-19.

“This is the first attempt to create such a Risk Reduction Framework with currently available evidence. Employers have a duty of care requiring them, as far as reasonably practicable, to secure the health, safety and welfare of their employees.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester said: “Our NHS colleagues have gone above and beyond in helping during the COVID-19 crisis – this valuable tool will help to better protect the workforce and maximise the ability of the NHS to deal with current pressures.

“As one of the first institutions to have raised concerns about the disproportionate number of deaths from COVID-19 affecting people from BAME backgrounds, the University of Leicester has played an integral role in driving forward debate and demanding greater scrutiny into this terrible issue.

“We will continue to lead the way to stop more BAME deaths across the UK.”

Used in conjunction with the NHS Employers Guidance and PHE’S latest recommendations to reduce the risk of acquiring COVID-19, the new COVID-19 Risk Reduction Framework helps employers to ensure staff safety, particularly for high risk and vulnerable groups.

The guidance sets out practical steps such as conducting a workplace and workforce assessment, coupled to an individual assessment, which takes into consideration the key risk factors (age and ethnicity, gender, underlying health conditions and pregnancy).

Once this assessment has been completed, the guidance advises managers to consider redeployment of those deemed at highest risk to lower risk environments, such roles which are not directly patient facing primary care.

Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of College of Life Sciences, Dean of Medicine at the University of Leicester said: “We are indebted to all healthcare workers who compromise their safety to help others and we are obligated, as scientists, to do our part to keep them safe; this tool is a colossal step towards protecting those who protect us.”