COVID-19: infection rates higher among nurses than doctors, say researchers

Study reveals breakdown of infection rates by staff group at Oxford trust

Picture: Alamy

Nurses and healthcare assistants are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection than doctors and administrative staff in hospitals, a new study has revealed.

Oxford University study examined test results from thousands of staff members 

The study examined the different levels of risk faced by healthcare staff at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH).

It involved testing 9,809 symptomatic and asymptomatic staff volunteers from across OUH for SARS-CoV-2 and antibodies to the virus between 23 April and 8 June.

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The tests revealed that 11% (1,083) of OUH staff showed evidence of having COVID-19, but this rose to 21% for staff working on COVID-19 wards.

The Oxford University researchers also found infection rates varied according to area of work, with rates higher in acute medicine than intensive care or the emergency department – as well as differences according to staff role.

COVID-19 infection rates by staff group

  • Porters and cleaners – 18% (58/323)
  • Physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists – 14.7% (45/307)
  • Nurses and healthcare assistants – 14% (543/3,886)
  • Junior doctors – 12.7% (104/820)
  • Senior medical staff – 7.8% (54/692)
  • Administrative staff – 7.2% (86/1,196)


Higher infection rate for black, Asian and minority ethnic staff

The figures also showed that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff were at greater risk of infection than their non-BAME colleagues.

Black and Asian staff had an infection rate of 17%, compared with the overall staff infection rate of 14.7%, and 8.7% for white staff.

OUH chief people officer Terry Roberts said the trust had put steps in place to ensure BAME staff felt safe, including adding them to the ‘at-risk’ group and advising managers on how to mitigate risks.

Trust recommends measures to provide greater protection for staff

OUH chief medical officer Meghana Pandit said the organisation has now drawn up recommendations for all staff across its four hospital sites that include non-clinical staff such as porters and cleaners.

This includes the use of level one personal protective equipment for all patient contacts, ensuring strict social distancing and mask-wearing for patients and staff, triaging patients according to symptoms of possible COVID-19, reviewing cleaning procedures, and maximising rapid diagnostics and lab capacity.

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