Hospital porters and cleaners among those at ‘higher risk of Covid-19 infection’

Porters and cleaners as well as healthcare staff working in acute medicine appear to be at greater risk of Covid-19 infection, preliminary research has suggested.

Workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are also at higher risk of the disease than their white colleagues.

A study at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust looked at the levels of risk faced by healthcare staff dealing with the pandemic caused by the Sars-Sov-2 coronavirus.

The researchers found that the overall figure for Covid-19 infection among BAME staff was 14.7%, compared with 8.7% for white healthcare workers.

Among BAME healthcare workers, those who are black and Asian were at higher risk of the disease, with infection rates of 17%.

They also found that the chances of contracting coronavirus varied across different hospital departments, with those working in acute medicine (27.4%) and porters and cleaners (18%) at the highest risk of Covid-19 infection.

The findings have been published online in a preprint server known as medRxiv, which means it is yet to be peer-reviewed.

Terry Roberts, chief people officer at OUH, said “special steps” have been put in place by the trust to “ensure that all BAME staff working at OUH feel safe and supported”.

This includes adding them to the “at risk” group and advising managers on how they can ensure any risks are mitigated, he added.

We have drawn up recommendations for all staff across our four hospital sites, including portering and cleaning colleagues

Mr Roberts said: “We also set up listening sessions to ensure that BAME staff could highlight any concerns they had.”

Almost 10,000 staff were tested both for presence of the virus and antibodies to the virus, in what is thought to be the first comprehensive research to investigate all staff groups across an institution.

The scientists combined data from both symptomatic and asymptomatic staff testing programmes.

Results showed that 11% of staff had had Covid-19 at some stage, with the figure rising to 21% for staff working on Covid-19 wards.

As well as acute medicine, positive results were more likely among those working in intensive care (9.9%) and the emergency department (12.1%), according to the researchers.

OUH said that, based on the findings, an infection prevention and control plan to minimise the spread of Covid-19 among staff and patients has been put in place.

Professor Meghana Pandit, chief medical officer of OUH, said: “We have drawn up recommendations for all staff across our four hospital sites, including portering and cleaning colleagues.

“This has included staff continuing to use level 1 PPE for all patient contacts, and reinforcing PPE-focused training and safety huddles; ensuring strict social distancing and mask-wearing for patients and staff; continuing to triage patients according to symptoms of possible Covid, including atypical presentations in the elderly; reviewing cleaning procedures; and maximising OUH’s rapid diagnostics and lab capacity.”

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