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NIHR funds new study into protecting older people in care homes from COVID-19

Findings from this study will provide practical support for health and care delivery through further outbreaks of coronavirus.

An older woman washes her hands in a sink

A team of researchers led by the Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care have received funding to investigate the challenges and solutions to protecting older people living in care homes from COVID-19.

Over the next 12 months the research team, led by Dr Joanne Fitzpatrick (Reader in Older People’s Healthcare), will work with six care homes from across England. The aim of the study is to turn the research findings into an evidence-based toolkit to support health and care delivery through any further outbreaks of the coronavirus.

The study is called Protecting older people living in care homes from COVID-19: challenges and solutions to implementing social distancing and isolation. It is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as part of its Recovery and Learning call, totaling £5.5m in funding, to help better manage current and future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and investigate its long-term impacts on the health and care system beyond the acute phase.

Older people living in care homes often have complex needs and are at higher risk of poor health outcomes and death, especially if they contract COVID-19. To protect older people, care homes use measures such as social distancing and isolating of residents, but this can be challenging, and little is understood about the difficulties. The research team at King’s will explore real-life experiences and perspectives from a range of people to understand in greater depth the challenges faced in care homes and how best to address them. Participants will include care home residents, their families and friends, as well as staff working in and with care homes.

Care homes caring for older people must be supported to care well for residents, families and friends, and for its workforce during this pandemic. Our study will help achieve this by identifying the real-life challenges and consequences of providing safe care incorporating social distancing and isolation measures within a home setting. It will culminate in a co-produced toolkit of evidence-informed guidance and resources to support care homes now and for outbreaks in the future.– Dr Joanne Fitzpatrick, Study Lead and Reader in Older People’s Healthcare

This mixed methods study is organised into three phases over 12 months. Phase one will address the existing knowledge gap by conducting a rapid evidence review. Phase two involves in-depth case studies with six care homes across England and engagement with external stakeholders with knowledge and expertise at a wider level relevant to the pandemic for the care home sector. This will help us to understand the complex phenomena of social distancing and isolation for older people living in care homes to protect them from COVID-19. These findings will be used in phase 3 to co-produce a toolkit of evidence-informed guidance and resources for health and care delivery now, and to support any further outbreaks of the coronavirus.

This pandemic has presented care homes with many challenges. Whilst it is critical to protect our residents from the virus, it is just as important to understand the impact our protective actions might have on residents’ health and wellbeing. This research will help us to ensure that our future practice in relation to any further outbreaks - not just in relation to COVID-19 - will take a balanced and evidence-based approach to managing care.– Dr Richard Adams, Chief Executive Officer, Sears Healthcare

Research team

Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care at King’s College London

  • Dr Joanne Fitzpatrick, Reader in Older People’s Healthcare
  • Ruth Harris, Professor of Health Care for Older Adults
  • Anne Marie Rafferty, Professor of Nursing Policy
  • Dr Ivanka Ezhova, Research Fellow

University of Kent

  • Shereen Hussein, Professor of Care and Health Policy and Evaluation
  • Sinead Palmer, Research Officer

Kingston and St George’s University of London

  • Sally Brearley, Patient and Public Involvement Fellow

Sears Healthcare

  • Dr Richard Adams, Chief Executive Officer

Encore Care Homes

  • Lindsay Rees, Director of Health and Care

In this story

Joanne Fitzpatrick

Reader in Older People's Healthcare

Ruth Harris

Ruth Harris

Professor of Healthcare for Older Adults

Anne Marie Rafferty

Anne Marie Rafferty

Deputy Director, NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit

Ivanka Ezhova

Research Associate


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