Covid-19 – ‘Bubbling’ care homes

Care homes have undoubtedly been significantly affected by Covid-19 and the manner in which cases have both spread and been controlled has been criticised across national media outlets. The Office for National Statistics, reported on 3 July that for deaths registered up to 9 May 2020, 12,536 involved Covid-19. The number may of course be significantly higher as testing has not been undertaken in every death.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/deathsinvolvingcovid19inthecaresectorenglandandwales/deathsoccurringupto1may2020andregisteredupto9may2020provisional#deaths-involving-covid-19-among-care-home-residents

A recent study by NHS Lothian and Edinburgh University , looking at care-home outbreaks in a large Scottish health board has been undertaken. The study considered 189 care homes in the Lothian area where more than 400 people died from Corona.

The study identified that 37% of care homes considered within the sample group had experienced an outbreak of Covid-19 and significantly the larger the care home, the larger the associated outbreaks. NHS Lothian and Edinburgh University found the likelihood of the infection spreading increased three fold with every increase of around 20 beds. Homes with less than 20 residents had a 5% chance of outbreak, compared with a figure between 83% and 100% for homes with 60 to 80 residents.

The concerns with how the virus was controlled in care homes is still relevant considering the potential for a second wave. Lessons can and should be learned to prevent such significant numbers of deaths occurring again and actions taken to lessen the impact of a second wave. The study found that many of the deaths were due to outbreaks in only a few locations. This essentially means there is a wide pool of care homes that Covid-19 has not broken into, and thus a wide pool of potentially vulnerable residents that will need further protection ahead of any second wave.

The possibility of creating ‘bubbles’ within care homes has been suggested. These ‘bubbles’ in a care home setting could be created from sectioning larger Homes into smaller units.  Residents would be assigned to a small sub-unit and particular staff would also be assigned to those units. This way interactions between residents, staff, and the general footfall through the home could be limited, reducing the potential spread. Staff could be assigned to certain areas, and more scheduling of bubbled staff could be introduced for the running of the care home, such as cooking, cleaning and maintenance.

This in theory sounds like a possible way to reduce the outbreaks within care homes, however this will of course take considerable planning, resources, and staffing which will in turn increase the funding required to support the care homes.  Consideration will need to be given to individual set ups of care homes, and the possibility to  create small units within them, especially for homes with residents who may be prone to wandering, such as those suffering with dementia.

Pressure will likely continue to mount on the government, requiring clearer advice, and forward planning for a potential second wave and to ensure steps are in place to prevent the impact of any second wave.


Written by Holly Paterson at BLM

holly.paterson@blmlaw.com