County council piloting new home testing strategy with Public Health England

Johnny JenkinsEssexLeave a Comment

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Essex County Council, in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), is piloting a new approach to minimise deaths due to COVID-19 in care homes in the county.

Care homes are especially vulnerable to infection due to the frailty of residents and social distancing struggles to be effective in a close-knit care home-setting.

Figures issued this week from Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been confirmed that up to and including 27thApril 2020, 263 deaths due to COVID-19 have occurred in care homes in Essex, Southend and Thurrock.

To combat these rising figures, Essex County Council and PHE are piloting a new approach to care home infection across the county.

Cllr John Spence, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said: 

“Our policy is to intervene early to prevent outbreaks but, where they occur, contain them at the earliest opportunity. Protecting the NHS was obviously the first priority during the first phase of the outbreak, but now the focus needs to shift to prevent the spread of infection in care homes.

“Our Adult Social Care and Public Health teams have worked at pace to come up with a new approach to combat this issue which is now being piloted. It is one of the first approaches of its kind in the country and goes further than the existing guidance because we will act at the point when a single case is identified.”

Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex County Council Director of Wellbeing, Public Health and Communities, said the new approach was based on early testing, swift intervention and support for homes. 

Dr Gogarty said:

“We are taking this action because infection is often established in care homes before we have been able to intervene. Now, we will act at the earliest point when a single infection is identified and at this point we will test every resident and worker in the home to establish how far the virus has spread.

“We are proposing to phase in new processes for testing and infection control and although this will take time to embed, we believe it is the right approach.”

The pilot approach involves:

  • Any home with one suspected case should contact ECC and PHE within 24 hours. ECC will arrange infection control support from NHS infection control teams. 
  • All staff and residents in the identified home will then be tested. This is because in a study elsewhere the numbers with no symptoms and positive tests was substantial.
  • Homes will be able to contact a rapid response team at Essex County Council, or Public Health England’s response cell.

For homes with no cases, the new approach under discussion is to regularly test staff and residents. Essex County Council is now developing a strategy to shield homes with no cases, and shielding will need to go on for some months.

For homes with established outbreaks Essex County Council will work with the homes to establish best infection control practice advised by PHE and NHS infection control teams.

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