By testing all H&F’s care home residents and staff, the council and its health partners have saved lives, helped control the COVID-19 pandemic locally and reduced infections.
Once we realised that hospitals were discharging residents into care homes without first testing them for COVID-19, we acted in late March and early April to protect residents by closing the borough’s homes (which are all privately run) to new admissions.
A team led by Dr Nicola Lang, the council’s Director of Public Health, and including doctors, nurses and academics from Imperial College NHS Trust, Public Health England (PHE) Colindale and Imperial College London then tested everyone in the homes – whether they had symptoms or not. This controlled the virus and prevented further deaths.
People were tested using a robotic testing platform specially developed by the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI), which is based in the borough at Imperial College.
Between 1 March and 1 May, 103 residents out of a total H&F care home population of 394 tragically died. This was around three times the death rate of previous years. Around half of the deaths were attributed to coronavirus.
Dr Lang said: “It is clear that without rapid testing of more than 300 residents and all staff in the homes, the outbreaks would not have been brought under control.”
She swiftly drew together a unique collaboration of GPs, virology, elderly medicine, frailty matrons, infectious diseases teams, academia, and paediatric infectious diseases and epidemiology teams.
Dr Lang added: “They helped us manage the outbreaks with the latest infection control and isolation advice, and enabled us to test all our care home residents twice, as well as all staff.”
Cllr Ben Coleman, H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Sadly, we found that there was no government ‘protective ring’ around care homes. In the absence of national guidance or support, and combined with the huge amount of PPE the council is providing to homes, this local action on testing saved lives.”
“The success of the open and equal way the council has worked here with its local NHS partners and others should be seen as a blueprint for the future.”
DRI has now submitted this remarkable story as a research paper in the hope that lessons from it can help protect the 416,000 people living in care homes across the UK.
See Channel 4 News talking to H&F Council’s Director of Social Care, Lisa Redfern, about the action we took:
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