Research study will see 10,000 care home residents and staff undergo repeated coronavirus tests

Around 10,000 care home residents and staff will be repeatedly tested for coronavirus in a study to help the Government understand more about patterns of outbreaks over time.

The repeat testing will give a “detailed picture” of infections in more than 100 care homes in England and allow them to react quickly to outbreaks, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The research will be carried out by the DHSC, University College London and the NHS data foundry in 106 facilities run by Four Seasons Care Homes.

It will aim to provide a comprehensive picture of how outbreaks play out over time within the same home.

Swab and antibody tests will be used over the next 12-18 months to track who has the virus, past exposure and infection, providing “reassurance” to residents and staff.

Consenting participants will have three rounds of blood tests and three rounds of swab tests over a period of three to four months.

Residents who have antibodies at three months will be tested at six months and a year to see how long these stay in the body.

The first blood samples for the antibody tests were taken on June 11 and will help inform strategy as lockdown and social distancing measures are eased, the DHSC said.

Results from the first participants are expected to be available in July.

Care minister Helen Whately (pictured) said: “We know care homes are on the front line of our fight against coronavirus, with the virus affecting older people more acutely than the general population.

“Not only will this study provide important reassurance to thousands of residents and staff, it will also build our understanding of the rate of infection in care homes and add to our knowledge about the risk factors that mean the virus can affect individuals differently.

“The results of this study will help inform our future plans for managing the pandemic, to protect the public and those who receive care as we work to carefully return to normality.”

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Care homes are the front line and this opportunity is welcome.

“This study is absolutely critical if we are to win the battle against Covid-19.

“There is still so much to learn about this virus; why some care homes have tested positive whilst displaying no symptoms or deaths and others have felt the full force of the brutality of this silent killer.

“The Government’s study will help us understand the way in which this virus operates, thus enabling us to be better prepared today, tomorrow and in the future.”

Providers have previously said that weekly testing of all residents and staff could help ease the virus spread in care homes by ensuring residents are not exposed to asymptomatic carriers.

The Independent Care Group (ICG) gave a “guarded welcome” to the Government’s announcement.

Chairman Mike Padgham said: “Anything that helps care homes to tackle coronavirus has to be welcomed.

“We are extremely cautious at the current time as we do fear a second outbreak, which would pose an extreme threat for the older and vulnerable people we care for.

“We also have to be guarded given the conflicting messages we are receiving about the reliability of tests – we certainly need some clarity on that.”

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