Coronavirus: 'Everyone who needs one' in care homes will get a test

15 April 2020, 06:06

Testing in care homes will be ramped up
Testing in care homes will be ramped up. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The testing of care home residents and staff is being stepped up - after coronavirus outbreaks in facilities across England.

The Government has said it is "determined" to test all care home residents and staff for coronavirus symptoms, with testing remaining a "key" part of the Government's outbreak battle plan.

The announcement comes after criticism of the Government's treatment of the social care sector, with claims the deaths of older people were being "airbrushed out."

Concerns around care home residents were raised after 92 facilities announced outbreaks in a single day and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said around 13.5 per cent of all care homes in the UK have reported at least one confirmed case of Covid-19.

[Coronavirus live blog - follow the news as it happens]

The Department of Health and Social Care announced testing for all potentially infected residents before they are discharged from hospital.

Currently, only the first five symptomatic residents in a care home setting are tested to provide confirmation of whether there is an outbreak.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "I am deeply conscious that people in residential care are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus. We are doing everything we can to keep workers, residents and their families safe.

"We have already begun testing social care workers and will roll this out nationwide over the coming days. And as we continue to ramp up our testing programme, we will test all current care home residents with coronavirus symptoms and all new care home residents who are discharged from hospital into care."

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Labour's shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall has said that "only 500 care staff having been tested to date", and social care needs "a much greater priority and focus than it has had so far".

Increases in the laboratory capacity have opened up the chance for the Government to expand testing to include all care home residents who develop symptoms, the DHSC said.

Testing is vital to calculating accurate infection and survival rates. All of the examinations will be PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which search for the presence of Covid-19 in a sample.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is coordinating testing for the care sector, aims to have contacted 30,000 care providers by the end of the week. It has already offered 6,000 care facilities the opportunity to test their staff.

Care providers will then identify workers eligible for testing and refer them to their local testing centre.

Mr Hancock is set to give further details of the measures when the Government's Covid-19 social care action plan is outlined this week.

The Government has already pledged to perform 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.

On Tuesday, figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that Covid-19 was mentioned on 3,475 death certificates in the week to April 3, including hospital, care home and community deaths.

But care home providers warned they are seeing a higher number of cases and deaths than are officially reported, in part due to a time lag with the ONS figures.

MHA, a charitable operator, said there had now been 210 deaths across 131 of its homes, with outbreaks in about half of its homes.

And around two thirds of care homes run by Britain's largest care home operator HC-One have seen cases of Covid-19.