More than 2,000 NHS Tayside workers volunteered to take part in a study which could help the fight against Covid-19.
Professor James Chalmers, a consultant respiratory physician working with coronavirus patients at Ninewells Hospital, praised thousands of staff at the health board who took part in a new study looking at the prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies in healthcare workers.
Led by Dundee University, this is the first major antibody study of healthcare staff carried out in Scotland and samples were taken from more than 15 different categories of staff, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, administrative staff and porters.
The researchers found antibodies in 14.5% of the volunteers, compared to just 4.5% in the general Scottish population.
It also showed those who had dealt directly with coronavirus patients were not significantly more at risk than colleagues in other healthcare settings.
Professor Chalmers said this shows wearing PPE and other measures put in place to protect frontline staff have helped to reduce infection rates.
He said: “It is fantastic that more than 2,000 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-19 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.
“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, the health board’s clinical lead for winter planning, added: “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.”