More than 500 care homes in England will participate in a pilot scheme to monitor infections such as COVID-19, influenza, and norovirus, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
The Vivaldi social care project is one of several national surveillance programmes set up to monitor infection rates. The Winter COVID-19 Infection Study, run by the Agency and the Office for National Statistics, is due to begin work in November.
Care Home Residents are Frequently Admitted to Hospital
Care home residents and people who work in care homes have higher rates of infection compared with the general population, and care home residents are also more likely to be admitted to hospital.
Before the national surveillance study commenced in 2020, it was unknown how many people living and working in care homes were infected with COVID-19, or how many had been infected previously. In addition, it was unclear why some homes experienced outbreaks whilst others didn't.
Announcing the pilot scheme, the UKHSA said: "At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of data and surveillance infrastructure left care homes for older adults vulnerable to infections and outbreaks. The COVID-19 in care homes (Vivaldi) study and regular asymptomatic testing programme was rapidly stood up to fill this gap."
The study linked routinely collected data, including vaccination records, hospital visits, and death records, from more than 300 care homes in England. Blood samples were also taken to study infection rates, immunity, and other factors in long-term care facilities.
Researchers looked at the impact of COVID-19 in care homes, what could be done to prevent the spread of infection, and the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Scheme Aims to Improve Understanding of Infections in Care Homes
The new Vivaldi social care pilot will have a wider remit to use anonymised data to study other infections, including COVID-19, influenza, norovirus, and urinary tract infections. Professor Steven Riley, the UKHSA's director general of data, analytics, and surveillance, said it would improve understanding of infections in care homes and similar environments and would help "prepare for, prevent and respond to health threats, protect livelihoods and, most importantly, save lives".
The pilot scheme has been commissioned by the UKHSA in collaboration with University College London (UCL), Care England, NHS England, and other partners. Laura Shallcross, professor of public health at UCL, said: "By learning lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, we aim to find new, better ways to protect residents that do not impact negatively on their quality of life."
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the project would enable residents, families, care workers, providers, and wider stakeholders to work together and develop an understanding of how to reduce the impact of infections and outbreaks in care homes.
Professor Deborah Sturdy, chief nurse for adult social care at the Department of Health and Social Care, said the scheme would be valuable to "enhance best practice".