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Essex to pilot new care home testing programme

Essex County Council is joining forces with Public Health England (PHE) to pilot a new approach to care home infection in the county.

Under the new scheme, any care home with one suspected case should contact the county council and PHE within 24 hours.
Essex County Council will arrange infection control support from NHS infection control teams.

All staff and residents in the identified home will then be tested. This is because in a study elsewhere the numbers with no symptoms and positive tests was substantial.

Homes will be able to contact a rapid response team at Essex County Council, or Public Health England’s response cell.

For homes with no cases, the new approach under discussion is to regularly test staff and residents.

Essex County Council said it is now developing a strategy to shield homes with no cases, and shielding will need to go on for some months.

Figures recently published by Care Quality Commission (CQC) show that up to and including 27 April, 263 deaths due to COVID-19 have occurred in care home in Essex, Southend and Thurrock.

‘Our policy is to intervene early to prevent outbreaks but, where they occur, contain them at the earliest opportunity,’ said Essex’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, Cllr John Spence.

‘Protecting the NHS was obviously the first priority during the first phase of the outbreak, but now the focus needs to shift to prevent the spread of infection in care homes.

‘Our adult social care and public health teams have worked at pace to come up with a new approach to combat this issue which is now being piloted. It is one of the first approaches of its kind in the country and goes further than the existing guidance because we will act at the point when a single case is identified,’ added Cllr Spence.

Essex County Council’s director of wellbeing, public health and communities, Dr Mike Gogarty, said the new approach was based on early testing, swift intervention and support for homes.

‘We are taking this action because infection is often established in care homes before we have been able to intervene. Now, we will act at the earliest point when a single infection is identified and at this point we will test every resident and worker in the home to establish how far the virus has spread,’ said Dr Gogarty.

‘We are proposing to phase in new processes for testing and infection control and although this will take time to embed, we believe it is the right approach.’

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