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Agency staff use increases risk of COVID-19 by 2.5x

Care homes that rely heavily on agency staff may be two-and-a-half times more likely to spread COVID-19 to their residents, a study has found.

In care homes where agency staff comprised on average 10 per cent of the total staff, the risk of infection for residents increased by 2.5 times compared with having sufficient staff and by 1.5 times compared with being understaffed. The model did not account for potentially reduced compliance with measures in understaffed scenarios and lower quality care. 

The modelling showed that agency staff have the biggest infection-risk impact in smaller care homes with lower transmission within their facility and higher staff-to-resident ratios. Agency staff too are more likely to catch the virus compared to permanent staff.

While testing of agency staff was found to be an important risk mitigation measure, the modelling revealed that forming bubbles of care homes and restricting agency staff to only working within a bubble had limited impact on the spread of COVID-19.

The research by the University of Strathclyde confirms existing observational evidence that the use of agency staff increases the risk of infection for residents compared to staff who work within a single facility.

Co-author of the study, Dr Itamar Megiddo of the Department of Management Science, said: “Our findings support policies for limiting the movement of staff working across multiple care homes if their testing compliance is low.

“At the same time, we need to recognise that these staff are necessary to maintain quality of care and the quality of life of residents.”

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