Health board staff tested for Covid antibodies in study

More than 2000 NHS Tayside workers take party in research looking at prevalence of antibodies.

Health board staff tested for Covid antibodies in study Getty Images

More than 2000 healthcare staff in a health board have taken part in a new study looking at their prevalence of coronavirus antibodies.

The study led by the University of Dundee tested NHS Tayside staff and found antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in 14.5% of the volunteers, compared to 4.5% prevalence in the general Scottish population.

Samples were taken from more than 15 categories of staff including doctors, nurses, physios, radiographers, administrative staff and porters.

The study was led by Professor James Chalmers, who is also a consultant respiratory physician working directly with Covid patients at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

He said: “It is fantastic that more than 2000 staff volunteered to participate in this research and this comprehensive staff testing programme means we have helped to validate an antibody test that can now be used across NHS Scotland.

“It is no surprise that healthcare workers are more likely to have had Covid-19 than the rest of the population so it is important we understand exactly how best to mitigate potential risks.

“The fact that working directly with Covid patients did not put workers at higher risk suggests that NHS Tayside did a good job of protecting its staff.

“The most likely explanation for higher rates is the fact that healthcare staff were out and about more than the rest of the population during lockdown and transmission in non-clinical areas.”

The 14.5% is lower than in similar studies carried out in England, which have detected antibody rates of between 20-25% in hospital workers.

Dr Chalmers added: “Our study detected lower rates of staff infection than have been reported in various health boards in England and this also suggests that NHS Tayside did a good job under difficult circumstances.

“NHS Tayside is the first health board in Scotland to comprehensively assess the rate of infection in its staff, which will help us continue to protect staff and patients in future.”

Dr David Connell, NHS Tayside’s clinical lead for winter planning, said: “This is a really important and timely paper on the impact of Covid-19 in healthcare workers in Scotland from Professor James Chalmers and his team.

“It is great that NHS Tayside staff have engaged with this research to be the first in Scotland to understand the risk of Covid-19 in healthcare workers.

“As we move into winter, we know that our staffing across NHS Tayside is going to be critical, so recognising the effect of Covid-19 on affected healthcare workers in the first part of the pandemic will allow us to make sure we can plan to look after our staff in winter using the best evidence available.

“We know that PPE works, and this, coupled with focused Winter Planning around staffing, will help keep our essential workforce healthy and helping the people of Tayside.”

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