Coronavirus Fact-Check #4: “Why are so many healthcare workers dying?”

Media reports paint a picture of healthcare workers being hit very hard by the pandemic, but the statistics suggest otherwise

The deaths of doctors, nurses and other medical workers has been a major talking point since the pandemic began.

It started in Italy, where a website was set up listing the deaths of doctors who “died on the frontlines”.

Despite being billed as “frontline” doctors, fifteen of the names are dentists. There are also surgeons, psychiatrists, paediatricians and other specialists who obviously would not have been “on the frontlines” treating Covid19 patients.

When Swiss Propaganda Research noted that many of them were retired, and that average age was over sixty-nine, the dates of birth were removed.

As the pandemic has shifted focus from Italy to the UK, the deaths of NHS workers have started flooding the headlines.

A few days ago The Guardian ran a piece listing all of the NHS staff alleged to have died of Covid19. So did the Telegraph. And the BBC.

As these stories have been released, we’ve received several e-mails and comments asking some variation of the following:

If this is “just a normal flu”, why are so many healthcare workers dying?”

To which our response is: How many healthcare actually are dying of Covid19?

Although we hear a lot of anecdotal evidence, and see a lot of headlines, we have no data suggesting an excessive impact on healthcare professionals.

A recent statistical study published in the Health Services Journal (HSJ) provides some important facts and context:

Firstly, let’s establish the data: As of 22nd April, 119 “NHS workers” were reported to have died of Covid19. Thirteen of them were excluded from the study for being either retired or never confirmed to work for the NHS.

That left 106 NHS staff who died of alleged Covid19.

Secondly, we should clear up the misconception that this represents just “frontline” healthcare workers. It doesn’t.

This number includes 35 nurses, 18 doctors and 27 healthcare assistants (HCAs), they are all “frontline” workers. But it also includes 36 others (dentists, psychiatrists, porters, administrators, receptionists etc).

Finally, let’s put these numbers in some context:

The NHS is the biggest single employer in the UK. NHS England, NHS Scotland and NHS Wales employ roughly 1.5 million people (Wikipedia estimates over 1.7 million). That’s over 4% of the 38 million working-age adults, or 2.5% of the entire population of the UK.

As such, you would expect roughly 2.5% of the Covid19 victims to be NHS employees (assuming proportionate distribution).

However, the 106 NHS employees represent only 0.58% of the UK’s 18,200 total Covid19 casualties as of April 22nd.

To put it another way:

  • Any randomly selected citizen of the UK has a 1/39 chance of being employed by the NHS.
  • But any randomly selected “Covid19 related death” has a 1/172 chance of being employed by the NHS.

In summary: In direct contradiction of the media coverage, healthcare workers are NOT being disproportionately affected by Covid19. They are actually substantially under-represented.


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