One third of consultant physicians in the UK are at an increased risk of death from COVID-19, according to a new study. Some sub-specialties including haematology and rheumatology were among those with substantially increased risk.
Previous reports have shown that while Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals accounted for about 21% of total NHS staff, they had far higher rates of deaths due to COVID-19. In fact, BAME individuals accounted for 95% of medical staff deaths, 63% of nursing deaths and 64% of support staff deaths.
With these data as a background, researchers led by Dr Ajay Verma, of Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, evaluated the risks of COVID-19 related deaths among 13,502 consultant physicians.
Of 5,099 female physicians, 26.5% were of BAME ethnicity, compared with 40.3% of 8,404 male physicians.
Using a risk grid for the UK population with a female aged 50-59 years as a reference, they then analysed where consultant physicians fitted in terms of risk of COVID-19-related death.
The overall population risks highlighted that men were at higher risk of death, with a two- to six-fold increase for those over 60 years of age, and a hazard ratio of 1.59 for all men compared to women at any age.
But ethnicity played a particularly large role in determining risk, with a doubling of risk for COVID-19-related death in BAME men over 50 and in women over 60.
More than one-third of the cohort of consultant physicians (33.6%) had an HR above 1 for COVID-19-related death. Another 18.4%, 9.3%, and 2.5%, had HRs above 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
Based on the gender and ethnicity rates among sub-specialties, some groups of physicians were at even higher risk. For example, 35.9% of haematologists and rheumatologists had an HR above 1 and 20.3% had an HR above 2. Other specialties with more at-risk physicians included cardiology, endocrinology and diabetes physicians, and neurology.
“Individual risk assessments need to be in place for all consultant physicians, especially those with increased exposure to COVID-19 patients and aerosol-generating procedures,” the authors recommended.
However this advice came too late for one of the study authors, Royal College of Physicians registrar Donal O’Donoghue, who contracted COVID-19 during the course of the paper’s submission. He died on 3 January at age 64. “This paper is published in the spirit of Donal’s intellectual endeavour, curiosity, and academic rigour,” his co-authors wrote.