This week’s gender data gap of the week is both good news and bad news. The bad news is, as we have been saying for some time now, masks are not adequately designed for female faces. The good news is, at least one NHS trust has decided as a result to start collecting sex-disaggregated data on mask fit. Hurrah!
That trust is Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, who, when I FOId them on mask fit failure rates for men versus women back in May, told me they did not collect sex-disaggregated data on mask fit failure rates. They have since published a paper
on the subject, in which they found that women are indeed more likely to fail mask fit tests. They also point to data showing that “young female staff have been reported to have double the COVID-19 related mortality rate compared to age matched females in the general population,”
Since the trust does not collect sex-disaggregated data, they inferred sex from names, which, as they themselves acknowledge, is not an ideal way to determine sex since it “may introduce information bias, in particular for transgender healthcare staff.”
As a result, they have now improved their data collection and the Trust “now routinely records gender, sex assigned at birth (if different from gender), and ethnicity data for all respirator fit tests so that we may better study the impact of these demographics on respirator fit.”
I am 100% taking this as a win. My only remaining criticism is that they don’t record reasons for fit test failure – anecdotally, and from a couple of FOI responses, it seems that facial hair is the main reason men fail fit tests. While this is not ideal, it is not entirely the same as failing because of face shape in that one is fixable by having a quick shave, while changing your face shape is not possible without surgery. (to be clear I am very much not advocating face surgery for female medics so they can pass their mask fit tests)
Anyway, in conclusion: hurrah for sex-disaggregated data and hurrah for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust!