Many specialist physicians at increased risk of death from COVID-19: UK study

Doctors health

By Dave Levitan

11 Feb 2021

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.

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