Agency staff were spreading Covid-19 between care homes, PHE found in April

In evidence that raises further questions about ministers’ claims to have “thrown a protective ring around care homes”, it emerged that agency workers – often employed on zero-hours contracts – unwittingly spread the infection as the pandemic grew, according to the study by Public Health England (PHE). While the peak appears to have passed, the crisis is far from over for the country’s 400,000 care home residents, with some providers reporting fresh outbreaks and hospitalisations at the weekend. A 2019 PHE document about flu pandemic preparations called “Infection prevention and control: an outbreak information pack for care homes” urged operators to “try to avoid moving staff between homes andfloors”. Results from the PHE study, conducted over Easter weekend from 11 to 13 April, have been known about inside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since at least the end of last month, but were only circulated last week to care home providers, councils and local directors of public health. Gallery: How countries are edging out of Covid-19 lockdown (Photo Services) Even as the world continues to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, several countries, where the daily growth of new infections has reduced, are beginning to take tentative steps to ease lockdown measures in order to allow citizens to move freely for the first time in weeks and to revive the economy. The country has started partially lifting the lockdown and the steps will be evaluated to see if containment measures are working. Two categories of shops - stationers and children's clothes - were given the green signal to begin functioning on April 14. The new plan to cut infection rates in care settings included instructions to 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”. A report published in March about an outbreak in February at a home in Washington state where 23 people died found “staff members working in multiple facilities contributed to intra- and inter-facility spread”. Care operators have been increasingly reliant on flexible workers to fill shifts, with absence rates caused by self-isolation among permanent staff running as high as 25% at the peak of outbreaks. Until recent weeks, shortages of PPE exacerbated concerns that care staff risked spreading the illness and family members have complained of loved ones put at risk by care workers travelling to and from work without changing clothes. “The challenge here is they are looking for restrictions on movement when we are already running with a high level of vacancies in the sector, people self-isolating with symptoms and now the roll out of testing of asymptomatic staff which will increase the numbers self-isolating again.” ________________________________