The first part of an independent review into the deaths of London bus drivers from COVID-19 has been released.
Led by the UCL Institute of Health Equity, the report suggests that an earlier lockdown would have saved lives and that many of the drivers who died had underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk during the pandemic.
The review was commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) to examine the pattern of coronavirus deaths among London’s bus workers.
Among the 10 bus companies operating for TfL, 34 of the 30,000 employees are reported to have died of COVID-19 between March and May 2020. Of these deaths, 29 were to the 25,000 bus drivers.
Of the bus drivers who died, most stopped work in the 10 days either side of lockdown on 23 March, suggesting most of them became infected before lockdown.
London bus companies should identify the most vulnerable drivers using an occupational risk assessment tool
The mortality rate in male London bus drivers aged 20-64 was 3.5 times higher than men of the same age in all occupations in England and Wales from March to May, likely due to London being an early centre of the pandemic.
The review makes a number of recommendations: it suggests TfL should work with the bus companies to provide clear guidance on rapid and simultaneous implementation of measures in the event of COVID-19 spikes to protect bus drivers, particularly those with multiple risk factors.
It also says London bus companies should identify the most vulnerable drivers using an occupational risk assessment tool and, with the support of TfL, act to reduce their risk of exposure to and acquisition of COVID-19. This would include TfL and bus operators introducing criteria for staff to ensure that those now known to be most vulnerable are protected.
Improved engagement with health promotion initiatives and uptake of preventive interventions are also identified as essential, to reduce the risk of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As BAME staff are more at risk of becoming severely ill and dying from COVID-19, the authors also said recommendations in Public Health England's recently published report 'Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups' should be implemented.
'Given the dramatic effect of lockdown on reducing the risk among London’s bus drivers it is not possible at this stage to evaluate the protective measures that bus operators took – those will be examined in the second stage of the review,' said the Institute of Health Equality.
Stage two is due to be completed in the autumn.