Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at University of Southampton, said: “The study shows clearly the devastating impact of the pandemic within care homes. Residents are always extremely vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks, whether it be norovirus, scabies or here with Covid-19. They are often a neglected and forgotten population and deserve so much better than the lack of preparation and focus received before and during this pandemic.
“It is interesting to see an indication of reduced infection where there is a lower use of bank staff and where care home staff receive sick pay. These members of staff are often receiving relatively low pay, yet they are working in an incredibly difficult environment and sometimes without appropriate levels of PPE. There does need to be a conversation about how best to manage residential and nursing care during a public health emergency and that conversation needs to consider the needs of the staff.”
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One in five care home residents became infected with coronavirus once the disease was present, according to a new Office for National Statistics study.
More than half of homes in England surveyed by the ONS reported at least one Covid-19 infection and where that happened at least 20 per cent of residents tested positive for the virus.
Separately, the ONS said a third of all deaths in care homes across England and Wales between March and June have been linked to coronavirus, almost 20,000 deaths.
The ONS said its study of 5,126 care homes showed 56 per cent reported at least one case of infection with Covid-19 among staff or residents.
Among these 2,800 homes at least 20 per cent of residents subsequently tested positive for the virus showing the extent of spread within a home once the virus was present.
Around 7 per cent of staff in homes where the virus was detected tested positive for the virus.
The ONS said: “These emerging findings reveal some common factors in care homes with higher levels of infections amongst residents. These include prevalence of infection in staff, some care home practices such as more frequent use of bank or agency nurses or carers, and some regional differences (such as higher infection levels within care homes in London and the West Midlands). There is some evidence that in care homes where staff receive sick pay, there are lower levels of infection in residents.”
Iain Bell, deputy national statistician said: “These are the first results from the Vivaldi study, a large-scale survey which looked specifically at infections in care homes which provide care for people with dementia and older people across England. From this we’ve estimated that over half of these care homes have had at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 amongst their staff and residents.
“Future work will include more detailed analysis and will incorporate Covid-19 test results from the whole care home testing programme.”
The government has today announced plans to roll out weekly testing to care home staff and monthly tests for residents to try and curb the virus transmission within homes.
Since mid-April the ONS said there had been a slowdown in both the total number of deaths and deaths involving Covid-19 in care home residents.
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The ONS said England had a statistically significant high death rate than Wales with 1,183 deaths per 100,000 care home residents. Wales had a death rate of 822 per 100,000.
Covid-19 was the leading cause of death in male care home residents, accounting for a third of all deaths, and the second leading cause of death in female care home residents after dementia and Alzheimer disease, accounting for 27 per cent of all deaths.
Three quarters of care home residents died in their care home while a quarter, 4,810 residents, died in hospital.
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at University of Nottingham, said: “I am surprised that 44 per cent of care homes have managed to report no Covid-19 cases amongst staff or residents.
“That 80 per cent of residents with Covid-19 positive tests were asymptomatic is unexpected given age being the dominant risk factor for severity. Keeping Covid-19 out of all care homes, and preventing spread, was always going to be a nigh on impossible task. Even if all care staff were tested daily, a 24 hour delay in getting results would mean they had worked for one day whilst infectious.”
He added: “The role of staff working in multiple homes was a lesson we should have learnt from the spread of MRSA decades ago.”
“Deaths in care homes are best monitored by the weekly ONS data as they get place of death and death certificate giving cause for all deaths.”