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19 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Agency staff spread coronavirus between care homes early in pandemic, unpublished PHE study shows

By Samuel Horti

Temporary care home staff unwittingly carried coronavirus between care homes in the early stages of the pandemic as they covered for self-isolating permanent staff, an unpublished government study shows.

The study, seen by the Guardian, was conducted over the Easter weekend between 11 and 13 April, and was only circulated to care home providers, local authorities and public health workers last week.

It said that “infection is spreading from care home to care home, linked to changed patterns of staffing, working across and moving between homes”.

“Bank staff”, usually agency workers who are sometimes on zero-hours contracts, could transmit the virus between care homes, it said. These workers were often asymptomatic, and “by the time local health protection teams are informed of an outbreak substantial transmission may already have occurred”.

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The study was distributed privately last week as the government announced a £600m infection control fund for care homes. The fund would allow care homes to pay for staff that usually rotate between several homes to remain in one place, ministers said at the time. The government said care homes should “take all possible steps to minimise staff movement between care homes, to stop infection spreading between locations”, and that they should “employ staff to work at a single location” if possible.

(Image credit: LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP)