Fifth of care home residents have not had Covid test since May, study suggests

13 October 2020, 09:51 | Updated: 13 October 2020, 10:24

The study suggests that around 5% of care home residents haven’t been tested at all.
The study suggests that around 5% of care home residents haven’t been tested at all. Picture: PA
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

A study seen exclusively by LBC suggests as many as a fifth of care home residents haven’t been tested since May, in spite of Government promises to test them every 28 days.

In fact, the data suggests that around 40% of residents are not being tested within that time frame.

The data has been shared with LBC by The Data Analysis Bureau, who have analysed the records of some 32,000 care home residents, from care homes of all sizes right across England. That represents about 10% of the care home population in England, but the authors say there's no reason to believe it's not broadly representative.

In any case, it is the best data we have, as official statistics on the testing programme within care homes are not made publicly available.

But as the UK is now firmly in the grip of a second wave of coronavirus, a lack of timely testing means that many care home residents are still potentially at risk.

Fiona manages a small care home in Surrey, and told us she had really been struggling with the testing programme.

“We’re trying our best, we’ve had a lot of problems with deliveries of tests. At one point in July we had an email saying we weren’t getting any tests until September. It’s been awful. It’s not a party political point but these tests need to function, for the safety of our residents and the safety of our staff.”

Logistical problems with the delivery and collection of tests is certainly one issue, although there could be a few other explanations for the lack of testing, not all of which are the Government’s fault.

The study suggests that around 5% of care home residents haven’t been tested at all. That could be because homes haven’t actually requested any tests.

There are also residents, for instance those with severe dementia, for whom invasive testing procedures would be too distressing. It is not uncommon for families to ask that their relatives are not tested for such reasons.

Industry sources have also told LBC that the costs of employing staff to do all the testing can be high, and so some homes may not be testing as regularly as they should be.

But nonetheless, there is clear evidence that the system is not quite working as it should.

Labour’s shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “We haven’t sorted the testing system for our care homes. We haven’t sorted it for residents and we haven’t sorted it for staff. Of all the places you would have thought should have been prioritised by the Government, it is care homes after the horror we saw at the start of the virus. We’re still not there, and that is a serious problem.”

Simon Briscoe, the Director of The Data Analysis Bureau, said “The government made a big effort at the end of May and early June to increase testing rates. That is clear to see in the data: the testing rates rose, but since then they’ve really levelled off. We’re now in a position where perhaps roughly a third are being tested on a weekly basis, and somewhere around a half are being tested at least monthly.

So that does leave a very large number of these elderly and frail people who are not being tested.”

We put our findings to the Department of Health, who challenged the accuracy of the study, saying it only accounts for “10% of care home residents in England” and so they argue it is “not an accurate reflection of care home testing.”

They said that “All CQC registered adult care homes can access tests for weekly testing of staff and testing residents every 28 days. We have sent out over 10 million test kits to care homes so far.”