UKHSA announces pilot scheme to monitor infections in care homes in England

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has today announced a pilot scheme to monitor infections in care homes in England. The new pilot builds on the success of the Vivaldi study during the pandemic, with a wider remit to study other infections.

The Vivaldi social care project, commissioned by UKHSA in collaboration with University College London (UCL) and other partners including The Outstanding Society, Care England, and NHS England, is one of several national surveillance studies commissioned by UKHSA to gather evidence on the burden of infections across healthcare and community settings.

This new pilot will work with over 500 care homes in England to monitor infections such as COVID-19, flu, norovirus, and urinary tract infections, and analyse the resultant anonymised data in order to help reduce infections in care homes for older adults.

The Vivaldi study, a national surveillance study, was commissioned by UKHSA during the pandemic to investigate COVID-19 infections in care homes. Researchers looked at the impact of COVID-19 in care homes, what could be done to prevent the spread of infection, and the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccination.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of data and surveillance infrastructure left care homes for older adults vulnerable to infections and outbreaks. The COVID-19 in care homes (Vivaldi) study and regular asymptomatic testing programme was rapidly stood up to fill this gap.

The Vivaldi survey was set up in May 2020 to measure the burden of COVID-19 infections in care home staff and residents and understand why some homes were experiencing outbreaks. This included swab testing through the national care home testing programme and surveys completed by care home managers.

The main Vivaldi study started in June 2020 and built on the findings of the Vivaldi survey by linking routinely collected data from staff and residents in over 300 care homes in England. This data included vaccination records, hospital visits, and death records. Blood samples were also taken to study infection rates, immunity, and other factors in long-term care facilities.

The research from Vivaldi was crucial during the pandemic. It helped to inform decisions such as limiting staff movement between care homes to reduce infection risk and highlighting the need for sick pay for care home workers.

Professor Steven Riley, Director General of Data, Analytics and Surveillance at UKHSA, said:

UKHSA's collaboration with UCL on the Vivaldi study helped us understand the impact COVID-19 had in care homes and fed directly into important policy making decisions, helping to protect those living and working in adult social care settings during the pandemic.

We are delighted to be able to continue this work through the Vivaldi social care pilot which will improve our understanding of infections in care homes and similar environments beyond COVID-19 and will provide valuable data that will contribute to our mission to prepare for, prevent and respond to health threats, protect livelihoods and, most importantly, save lives."

Professor Laura Shallcross MBE, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Professor of Public Health at University College London said:

The Vivaldi social care project is a fantastic opportunity for researchers, residents, relatives, staff, and care providers to work together to tackle the problem of infections and outbreaks in care homes. By learning lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, we aim to find new, better ways to protect residents that do not impact negatively on their quality of life."

Zoe Fry OBE, Director of The Outstanding Society, said:

This programme will work to enhance the wellbeing of individuals residing or working in care homes for older people throughout England as well as supporting the wellbeing of visitors to the homes.

This initiative seeks to investigate strategies for minimising infections and enhancing the overall quality of life within these care settings. The collection of data plays a pivotal role in driving positive transformation within the sector, reflecting our commitment to research led by social care, for social care."

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said:

The Vivaldi social care project will enable residents, families, care workers, providers, and wider stakeholders to work together and develop our understanding of how to reduce the impact of infections and outbreaks in care homes.

Research in our sector is vital to help influence government policy and deliver improved outcomes for people who live in, work in, and visit social care. Vivaldi social care brings the sector together to improve learning and lays a strong foundation for other studies to shape social care through research going forward."

UKHSA remains committed to enhancing surveillance and research capabilities within care homes. The data generated by the Vivaldi social care pilot will play a pivotal role in shaping important policy areas and priorities as the study progresses.

The Vivaldi social care platform has been co-designed with people who live and work in care homes and will connect lists of care home residents with routine data sets already held by the NHS, including hospital admissions, mortality data, immunisations, laboratory test results, and prescriptions, all using a common pseudo-identifier based on NHS numbers. This integrated approach will provide a comprehensive view of residents' health and healthcare interactions.

The Vivaldi social care pilot represents a collective commitment to the wellbeing of older adults in care homes. It is our belief that data-driven solutions will create safer, healthier environments for this segment of our society.

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