This site is intended for health professionals only

‘PPE shortages fuelled Covid-19 spread in care homes’

A shortage of PPE helped Covid-19 to spread through care homes, a study from the University of East Anglia suggested.

The research found the spread of the coronavirus among 248 care homes in Norfolk was most strongly linked to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly facemasks and eye protection, once the virus was present.

However, the introduction of the virus to a home was not linked to PPE supply, but the numbers of non-care staff – such as maintenance people, cooks and administrative roles – working there.

Lead researcher Dr Julii Brainard suggested the correlation was due to the low use of PPE among non-care staff, and because they may be more likely to work part-time and across several locations.

She continued: ‘Low pay and job insecurity means that many people who work in care homes may need to work across multiple settings to have income security.

‘Each setting they work in can mean more chances for exposure to infectious people, and higher chances of infection transfer between settings.’

Covid-19 was almost 19 times more likely to enter a care home employing more than 30 non-care workers, nearly 10 times higher with 21-30 workers, and six times higher with 11-20 workers.

Once a virus entered a home, its spread was largely associated with inadequate PPE, although researchers also underlined the importance of protection infection and reduction.

The study, which looked at Norfolk care homes in April and early May, is the first to observe how Covid-10 enters and spreads through care homes.

It has not yet been peer-reviewed due to its rapid response nature, but the researchers hope it will help inform strategies to control the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases in care homes.

University of East Anglia infectious disease expert Professor Paul Hunter said: ‘It’s well known that here in the UK, care home workers were not supplied with sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and protective gowns early in the Covid-19 outbreak.

‘This lack of PPE was widely suspected to have contributed to the spread of the disease and deaths in care homes.’

In early May, almost 40% of all Covid-19 deaths in the UK were among care home residents, amid concerns about a lack of PPE.  

The social care staff death rate from Covid-19 is also twice that of the general population, according to Office for National Statistics data up until 20 April.