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Covid-19: Healthcare workers at more risk despite PPE

A healthcare worker trying to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 by wearing PPE.


Frontline healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment are still three times more at risk of testing positively for Covid-19 than the general population, a study has found.

Researchers from King’s College London (KCL) and Harvard University looked at data from 2,035,395 people working outside healthcare and 99,795 frontline healthcare workers in the UK and US.

They found 2,747 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 frontline healthcare workers, compared with 242 per 100,000 people in the general population.

Professor Sebastien Ourselin, senior author at KCL, said that the findings reveal ‘an elevated risk of Covid-19 infection despite availability of PPE’ among healthcare workers.

Around 20% of healthcare workers reported at least one symptom associated with Covid-19, compared with 14.4% of the general population – with fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and hoarse voice cited particularly frequently.

Black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff were five times more likely to be infected with Covid-19 than workers from non-Hispanic white communities, the research found.

Professor Ourselin added that in some cases, the BAME community lacked access to adequate to PPE or frequently reused equipment.

Dr Mark Graham, joint first author from KCL, said: ‘The work is important in the context of the widely reported higher death rates amongst healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds.

‘Hopefully a better understanding of the factors contributing to these disparities will inform efforts to better protect workers.’

Researchers said the study not only shows the importance of adequate PPE, but also the need for additional strategies to protect healthcare workers – such as using PPE correctly and avoiding reuse, and social distancing

‘We need to ensure this is reinforced and sustained throughout the health service – including in health care settings outside hospitals, for example in care homes.’

In May, a Royal College of Nursing survey found that BAME nursing staff struggle more than their white counterparts to access PPE.

Read more: PHE advice on how to put on and take off personal protective equipment