Listening and learning: a qualitative study of Scottish care home staff experiences of managing COVID-19 between March 2020-August 2022

BMC Geriatr. 2023 Sep 7;23(1):544. doi: 10.1186/s12877-023-04251-z.


Background: The serious outcomes of outbreaks of COVID-19 in care homes have been described internationally. The experiences of professionals working through outbreaks has received less attention, missing opportunities to acknowledge and learn lessons. Our aim was to explore the experiences of care home staff in Scotland of managing COVID-19 within their homes to help inform understanding and future practice.

Methods: From April to August 2022, 34 individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with care home staff working in homes which experienced an outbreak(s) of COVID-19. Reflexive thematic methods were used to analyse verbatim deidentified transcripts.

Findings: There was no singular experience of COVID-19 outbreaks within care homes. We identified four broad groupings of homes with outbreaks (significant outbreaks, managed outbreaks, outbreaks in remote/rural homes & outbreaks in homes supporting younger adults), with overlaps in timing and severity and variation in the support received and impact. The national response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in fundamental change to care home relationships. Staff responded by adaptation in uncertainty. However, they were challenged by emerging inequalities influencing residents' care. There were tensions between staff experience and evolving external approaches to regulation and oversight. All this change resulted in psychological impacts on staff. However, there was also widespread evidence of compassionate leadership and teamwork in their responses. Effective sources of support were underpinned by respectful relationships and continuity, tailored to individual contexts.

Conclusions: The lived experiences of care home staff during the COVID-19 pandemic provide valuable insights applicable beyond the pandemic context. This includes: recognition of the specialism, complexity and diversity of care home practice; the value afforded by embedding genuine representation and involvement in planning, policy-making and research; the need for individualising to people in their contexts and the value of fostering respectful relationships across professional groups to support residents.

Keywords: Adaptation; COVID-19; Care homes; Compassionate leadership; Inequalities; Involvement; Long-term care; Positive support; Psychological impacts; Relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Pandemics*
  • Qualitative Research