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Higher COVID-19 death rate among nurses requires urgent investigation, says RCN

ONS reports higher death rates in healthcare staff compared with other working age people

Office for National Statistics reports higher death rates in healthcare staff compared with other working age people

Nursing leaders have called for an urgent investigation after new figures show that more than 250 nurses and healthcare assistants have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Office for National Statistics compares death rates among healthcare staff with general population

Office for National Statistics reports higher death rates in healthcare staff compared with other working age people

Headshots of some of the many nursing professionals who have died of COVID-19
Nurses, healthcare assistants and other nursing professionals from across the UK who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nursing leaders have called for an urgent investigation after new figures show that more than 250 nurses and healthcare assistants have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Office for National Statistics compares death rates among healthcare staff with general population

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found nurses had statistically significant higher rates of death from COVID-19 compared with the general population.

The ONS data cover 7,961 COVID-19-related deaths in the working age population (those aged 20 to 64 years) in England and Wales between 9 March and 28 December 2020.

COVID-19-related deaths among working age people

The ONS figures for COVID-19-related deaths among working age people from 9 March and 28 December found that there were:

  • 47 male nurses (79.1 deaths per 100,000)
  • 110 female nurses (24.5 deaths per 100,000)
  • 45 male nursing assistants, auxiliaries, healthcare assistants (87.2 deaths per 100,000)
  • 54 female nursing assistants, auxiliaries, healthcare assistants (25.3 deaths per 100,000)
  • 190 male healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, paramedics, ambulance staff and porters (44.9 deaths per 100,000)
  • 224 female healthcare workers (17.3 deaths per 100,000)
  • 5,128 men in the general population of working age people (aged 20–64) (31.4 deaths per 100,000)
  • 2,833 women in the general population of working age people (16.8 deaths per 100,000)

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said the higher death rate among nursing staff needed urgent investigation with consideration of the possible role of ethnicity.

BAME staff more likely to die from COVID-19

A report by Public Health England published in June 2020 found people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more likely to die from COVID-19, while diagnosis rates for coronavirus were highest in black communities.

The report included analysis of the deaths of 119 NHS workers, revealing that BAME staff were over-represented.

Professor Kinnair said: ‘The fact that the rate of death among nursing staff is significantly higher than the general population highlights the absolute need to properly investigate why this is happening to make sure they are given the protection they need.

‘We also need to see real-time information on the demographics, including the ethnicity of those who have lost their lives.’

Commenting on the data, ONS head of health analysis and life events Ben Humberstone said: ‘There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions. Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.’


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