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The other keyworkers in care homes: Implications of including domestic staff in social care workforce strategies and practices relating to COVID-19 recovery

Project summary

Housekeeping staff in care homes – cleaners, those working in kitchens, laundries, maintenance – are often forgotten but are the backbone of many care homes. What happened to them during the coronavirus pandemic is the subject of a new research study. Researchers at the NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London (KCL) have received NIHR Policy Research Programme funding to investigate the experiences and challenges of these care home workers during COVID-19.

Housekeeping and catering staff have been crucial during the coronavirus crisis given their role in infection control, food preparation, and help with social distancing. But they tend to be overlooked. What they have done and the challenges they faced during the crisis are often hidden. Many are women with families, work part-time, and on shifts, and often are from migrant or minority ethnic backgrounds. We know they are not well paid. Some sadly died from the virus. We want to find out whether and to what extent these workers were prepared and supported in their roles during the pandemic. This will help meet a gap in knowledge – how to better support this staff group work to prevent coronavirus, help those with it, and with service recovery.

Kritika Samsi and Caroline Norrie introduce the project on the Unit blog.

Project funder

NIHR Policy Research Programme Recovery, Renewal, Reset: Research to inform policy responses to COVID-19. (Project no. NIHR202293)

Project duration

1 January 2021 – 31 October 2021


Our 10-month study has 2 parts. In Part 1, we will talk to 50 ancillary staff (privately); care home and Human Resource managers (15-20); residents and relatives (8-10). We will examine care home documents: inspectors’ reports, staff handbooks and job descriptions, to develop a comprehensive picture of the situation. Drawing upon our networks, we will talk to people in different types of care homes and with different personal characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity, employment status), allowing us to examine whether management practice reflects the variety of ancillary staff. In Part 2, we will co-produce a good practice model for employing and supporting ancillary or housekeeping staff in care homes relevant to COVID-19. Building on Part 1 interviews, we will develop a document with representatives of this workforce, managers, residents and their families. The model will help support these staff during possible future waves of coronavirus and in recovery of services. The study’s outputs include: a detailed report on the experiences and treatment of ancillary staff during the pandemic from different stakeholder perspectives; and a coproduced ‘good practice’ model for policymakers and for care home providers.

We will publicise our resources for managers responsible for human resources, care home managers, wider care home sector; and produce policy options for national social care policymakers. We previously produced COVID-19 guidance for other parts of the care sector that was much appreciated and aim to do the same from this study.

Study Advisory Group

Our Study Advisory Group will draw on its members’ insights and experiences, helping our findings to have influence. We will ask this Group to help us and will involve residents in care homes and their relatives. They will help us reach different participant groups, design interview guides, understand what people tell us, and make sure our findings are easy to understand.

Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator