HDR-UK supported health data research helps explain worse Covid-19 outcomes in certain ethnic groups

02 September 2020

Data collated and made accessible for research via the PIONEER Hub has allowed researchers to better understand the link between ethnicity, severity of illness and outcomes for hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

The study, due to be published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, found that hospitalised COVID-19 patients of South Asian ethnicity were more likely to be younger and less likely to have underlying health conditions than patients from white ethnic groups.  On average, these patients were admitted with a worse severity of COVID19, without any evidence of a delay in seeking medical help, and they experienced a higher level of mortality even when differences in age, sex, poverty and key chronic illnesses were taken into account.

All swab confirmed COVID-19 cases who were hospitalised across the four hospital sites of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, between 10 March and 17 April 2020, were included in the study. Data was collected from electronic health systems at the Trust, with supplementary additions at three sites from, “Your Care Connected”, the joint primary and secondary record held at Heartlands Hospital, Good Hope Hospital and Solihull Hospital.

Previous studies had suggested that people from South Asian and Black ethnic groups were more likely to require critical care as a result of Covid-19 infection. However, it was unclear if this could be attributed to higher rates of infection.

This study indicates that even when infection rate is taken into consideration, along with age, gender and socioeconomic deprivation scores, patients from South Asian communities were still more likely to have worse outcomes, including death. Further research is needed to determine why this is the case.

Health Data Research UK’s PIONEER Hub brings together data from when patients have sought unplanned medical care across the Midlands region and helps researchers to responsibly access the data they need for their studies.

The Birmingham population has a higher than average percentage of people from BAME backgrounds and so the Hub’s dataset was especially useful for this study.

The PIONEER team engaged with 302 patients and public members as to the use of health data to improve the care for people with acute, unplanned illness.  A group of patients recovering from COVID-19 specifically joined a working group for this research and supported the use of routinely collected health data to investigate the relationship between poor outcomes and ethnicity.    A working group of staff and patients from Black and Asian Minority ethnic groups discussed the results and how they should be shared.

Facilitating prompt access to data has helped to support the efforts to better understand and manage the global COVID-19 pandemic.