A COVID-19 tracking study conducted by Public Health England (PHE) has concluded that temporary health workers hired to cover for care home staff who were self-isolating, were spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection between care homes in the UK, The Guardian reported on Monday.
The unpublished study, shared only with care home operators, reportedly used genome tracking to investigate COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes.
The results of the study, conducted over Easter weekend from 11 to 13 April, were reportedly known about inside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since at least the end of last month.
“Infection is spreading from care home to care home, linked to changed patterns of staffing, working across and moving between homes,” the results of the study said, according to the outlet.
The study results warned that transmission could be introduced by “bank staff” workers used to fill temporary vacancies in different care homes.
“By the time local health protection teams are informed of an outbreak, substantial transmission may already have occurred,” the study added.
The tracking study was referenced as part of a £600m COVID-19 infection control plan, which adult social care directors reportedly said came “tragically late in the day” after the peak of the outbreak has already gone.
According to the newspaper, at least 20,000 people died due to direct or indirect COVID-19 complications in care homes in England and Wales.
A new plan for reducing the spreads of the virus in care settings, release by the DHSC last week, instructs care councils and operators to “take all possible steps to minimise staff movement between care homes, to stop infection spreading between locations” and that “subject to maintaining safe staffing levels, providers should employ staff to work at a single location”.
“We are working around the clock to make sure care homes, and our frontline social care workforce, are getting the support they need to protect their residents and tackle coronavirus,” a DHSC spokesperson said. “Our help to care homes, which includes financial support, infection control training and supplies of PPE, has meant that two-thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all.”
As of Monday, the United Kingdom has registered over 247,700 coronavirus-related infections, including 34,876 deaths, according to data presented by Baltimore, Maryland's Johns Hopkins University.