Research to shed light on UK care home COVID-19 deaths

The coronavirus pandemic hit care homes hard – leading to a doubling of deaths among residents during the April 2020 peak of the pandemic.

Now a team of researchers led by Lancaster University, including data scientists and clinicians aim to gain a clearer picture of how COVID-19 patients were managed in UK care homes as the pandemic unfolded.

Their research will offer insights into how different homes dealt with the crisis and provide valuable information to help guide Government, care home managers and staff in future crises.

The research will focus on care homes in North East England – a region that was particularly badly hit, with the highest proportion of care homes affected by COVID cases in the country.

The research team will take advantage of a unique dataset spanning 68 care homes and more than 2,500 residents. This dataset provides information on care home residents linked with their health service record. It will enable researchers to analyse linked care home, community, hospital emergency department data from both before and after the easing of the lockdown period.

Professor Jo Knight, Chair in Applied Data Science at Lancaster University and Principal Investigator on the project, said: “The COVID pandemic hit our care homes hard and many residents sadly lost their lives. Our objective is to utilise this novel dataset and evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the care sector and health service provision. Our insights will provide robust evidence to inform policy decisions, actions and measures that can be taken to deliver the effective, safe management of care home residents if and when virus outbreaks happen in the future.”

Bringing together researchers from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Durham University, University of Sheffield, Leeds University and Newcastle University, Newcastle Hospitals and led by Lancaster University, this 12-month project will address research gaps identified by SAGE (the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies) and seek to understand if COVID-19 patients were managed differently to ‘normal’ circumstances.

It will also discover, through interviews with staff and clinicians, how decisions were made about whether ill residents were transferred to emergency departments in hospitals. It will also seek to find out if residents displaying COVID-19 symptoms were transferred back from hospitals to care homes.

Researchers will also analyse how different care settings took different decisions and implemented different management strategies, and how that affected outcomes.

The research has been funded with £252,000 from the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

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