Researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University – will lead a new three-year study investigating the long-term health impact of COVID-19 on NHS healthcare workers (HCWs) across the UK from diverse ethnic backgrounds and roles.
Launched by the NHS Race and Health Observatory, the ‘REACH-OUT’ study builds on ‘UK-REACH’ (United Kingdom Research study into Ethnicity And COVID-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers). The Leicester team will work in collaboration with University College London, the University of Nottingham, national stakeholders and front-line healthcare workers.
Data has already been collected from over 18,000 healthcare workers from a range of ethnic groups, around a quarter of whom contracted Covid-19, as part of earlier mixed-methods studies conducted by UK-REACH. As part of UK-REACH, baseline data collected between December 2020 and July 2021 from ethnic minority healthcare workers will now be analysed with data updated to reflect participants’ feedback over time as part of the new study, which starts this December.
Feedback from participants through further questionnaires, structured interviews and focus groups will examine levels of support, availability, and effectiveness of various treatments for managing the impacts of acute and long Covid. A key area of focus will be the type of support systems currently in place and the lived experiences and perceptions of healthcare workers, including lessons learnt and implications to aid speedier recoveries.
The term ‘long Covid’* is commonly used to describe signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID-19. It includes both ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 (from 4 to 12 weeks) and post-COVID-19 syndrome (12 weeks or more).
Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Leicester’s Hospitals, and Chief Investigator of UK-REACH, said: “Healthcare workers have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and there is emerging data on the long-term implication of having Covid-19 – so-called long Covid in this group. Unfortunately, long Covid in healthcare workers remains poorly understood and we are delighted that REACH-OUT will build on the work of UK-REACH to research this area and inform the NHS and policy-makers.”
Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said: “I am delighted that the NHS Race and Health Observatory will be working in collaboration with UK-REACH to examine the impact of long Covid on some of the most at-risk healthcare staff in the UK. People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have shouldered a disproportionate burden in the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are increasingly concerned that history is repeating itself in the case of long Covid.
“Black, Asian and minority ethnic healthcare workers, who make nearly 25 per cent of NHS staff, are at high risk of Covid-19 infection and adverse outcomes. The ongoing mental, physical and occupational impacts of long Covid on healthcare staff and on patient care are as yet unknown. Urgent research is needed to aid the recovery of the healthcare system, and this programme of work will help to support that.”
A set of policy recommendations for healthcare providers will follow the research findings.
Long Covid symptoms range from extreme fatigue, lack of smell and taste and joint pain, to heart palpitations and issues with memory.
Mario Andrew Alfonso, an Anaesthetic Nurse, said: “I am a Covid-19 survivor who has been suffering from the effects of the long Covid syndrome. I continue to experience a variety of symptoms that affects numerous systems in my body after recovering from an acute infection of Covid in 2020. It’s not just long-term physical effects but also the long-term mental effects and their impact on your psychological wellbeing.
“I am aware that not everyone has similar symptoms or in the same severity. In fact, even those who had an asymptomatic Covid-19 infection can also experience these long-term effects. This is why I believe that research and study on this disabling effect of Covid-19 are extremely important.”
Professor Katherine Woolf, Professor of Medical Education Research, UCL Medical School, said: “We urgently need to find out how best to support healthcare workers with the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. REACH-OUT builds on the unique UK-REACH questionnaire cohort study, which 18,000 healthcare workers have already taken part in since its launch in December 2020. The REACH-OUT study will follow-up these healthcare workers to discover how many of them have long Covid, how this is affecting them, and how they can best be supported.
“A quarter of NHS staff, and nearly a third of the study’s participants, are from ethnic minority groups. Unfortunately they have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, so it’s especially important to find out how they can be supported to recover.”
Dr Laura Nellums, Lecturer in Global Health, Nottingham University, said: “This research offers an important opportunity to gain in-depth insight into the experiences of our diverse NHS workforce, including across ethnic groups and healthcare worker roles. This will be critical for understanding the long-term impact that Covid-19 is having on the mental, physical, and occupational health of staff, as well as our healthcare system.”
*NICE definition of long Covid
• NHS Race and Health Observatory