Care bosses have accused the government of failing to deliver its promise of regular Covid-19 testing for staff and residents of all care homes, nearly six months after the UK began lockdown.
Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, said he had repeatedly asked ministers and senior officials to enact a pledge by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, on 8 June that “every care home” in England would receive regular testing for the virus.
Green said there were many parts of the UK where testing was not happening, preventing homes from allowing visits by relatives. He explained: “The government announced a visitor policy, and that was very dependent on testing. So if you haven’t got proper testing, you then find it much more difficult to reintroduce visiting.”
Lack of contact with loved ones can have a serious effect on residents’ health, doctors say. While the focus has been on older people, those with learning disabilities had been “entirely forgotten”, Green said.
Some had not been allowed to leave their home or care setting since lockdown began on 23 March.
“A lot of the commitments made by government on testing in the care sector just have not been delivered,” Green said. “It told us we were going to get testing for staff weekly, and for residents every 28 days. That has not happened in every area. We’ve seen increasing numbers of areas where the process has fragmented.”
He said some care providers had received kits that had never been collected for processing, and others were experiencing long delays due to lack of laboratory capacity. He added: “In a couple of cases, I’ve heard that results haven’t arrived before the next round of testing should have happened.”
Regular testing was derailed when 750,000 test kits were recalled by Randox after safety concerns, it was revealed this month. Yet the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says there is national capacity for nearly 350,000 tests a day. Hancock said this month he would bring in mass testing and expand a surveillance testing scheme from 30,000 to 150,000 people.
“What confuses me is that the government is announcing endless new people who can be tested,” Green said. “If there’s no capacity to do priority things for social care, how can they say that they want more testing for other areas?” Green asked.
Last week, questions were raised about overall testing capacity when home testing kits apparently ran out. People registering for tests in southern England were told to travel some 500 miles to Inverness for a drive-through test. The DHSC insisted there were no test shortages.
Care England joined the National Care Forum (NCF) in calling on the government to reverse its decision to exclude care home inspectors from regular testing. It means that while staff cannot move between homes, Care Quality Commission inspectors can because they were excluded by the DHSC from the testing regime.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “It is concerning and disappointing that seven months after Covid-19 first arrived in the UK, the basic tools to manage the virus are still not being provided for the care sector.
“Callers to the Relatives & Residents Association helpline have been extremely worried about the lack of regular testing, putting care users and staff at risk. Many older people in care continue to live in isolation as lack of testing prevents some homes from opening up, with a devastating impact on wellbeing and mental health.”
The NCF executive director, Vic Rayner, said in an open letter to Hancock that the policy was “extraordinary”, while Green said it was “ridiculous”, explaining: “There’s a fear that the inspector could be asymptomatic and bring in the virus. It could reintroduce the virus and could result in people dying. That’s the stark reality of it.”
Green added that recent guidance on people with learning disabilities did not acknowledge that many need support to go out to work or visit families. Mark Adams, the chief executive of Community Integrated Care, which supports more than 3,500 people with learning disabilities, autism and other conditions, said many were not being tested. “They often share homes with three to maybe eight people, but sometimes up to 60. But because these services don’t have a care home registration, they’re excluded from routine testing – nor are there any plans for testing.
“It’s absurd to discriminate against people who share identical risks, purely because of the category of property that they live in. The goodwill of families is wearing thin. I’m past cross. I’ve been cross for six months about how slow everything is. I’m now more anxious about what’s coming next.”
Read the original article at The Guardian