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Designing for a COVID-free future

By Eleanore Robinson

One of the fundamental problems in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in care homes has been their design. 

Most homes have been built for communal living, not to isolate residents in the event of a pandemic.  

Now Newcastle City Council is trying to find a balance between the two by building a ‘new model’ care home.  

Partially funded by Legal & General, the design and operation of the 20/25 bed home will incorporate key lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak.  

This will encompass infection control, operations of lockdowns, the creation of support bubbles and minimising the impact on residents, particularly those with dementia.  As a result, smaller homes, designed as households with up to 10 residents living together with four or five staff during the day, could make social distancing easier and limit the spread of an outbreak.

This design will to ensure that staff and visitors only come into contact with members of one ‘household’, keeping them safe, while allowing visits to continue, preventing loneliness and isolation.

New technology will be also integrated into the building, including telehealth, telemedicine and remote monitoring. 

In larger homes, en-suite bathrooms can also reduce the risk of cross-contamination and designing corridors to be more than two metres-wide will allow people to comfortably pass each other.

Writing in the RIBA Journal, associate at Glancy Nicholls Architects Danielle Swann said: “There’s no doubt that coronavirus is influencing current thinking among care home clients and the situation offers an opportunity to raise the game for design and quality of care.  

“We need to promote an expansion, or an overhaul, of the national minimum standards for care home regulations to drive forward quality design. The current standards were last updated in 2006 and only require a minimum of one bathroom per eight residents, which is one aspect that should be revisited.”

Smaller homes, however, are more prone to the financial impact an outbreak of COVID-19could cause.

As a recent Knight Frank report found: “While not a blanket rule, outbreaks are likely to have a more pronounced effect on smaller independent care homes, typically with less than 40 beds.

“Our analysis shows that around half of UK care homes are below this size and those without large group backing or the economy of scale to absorb occupancy loss, are at greater risk.”

Newcastle Council intends that its new model home will  gather data to help to determine how best to operate care facilities in a post-COVID environment, with information fed to the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing, the Urban Observatory as well as other researchers and care providers.  

The council will own and operate the facility, but a site has yet to be identified.  

Leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes said: “The pandemic has shown how vital good quality adult social care services are. We have an opportunity to move away from large scale facilities to smaller, community-based services that provide a sense of independent home living, are dementia-friendly and improve everyone’s quality of life.” 


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