One in 10 care home staff ‘without regular Covid tests’ despite government pledge

16 December 2020, 09:18 | Updated: 16 December 2020, 09:21

Care home staff in the UK are complaining of insufficient testing
Care home staff in the UK are complaining of insufficient testing. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

More than one in 10 care home staff say they are not receiving regular coronavirus tests months after a major government pledge, according to a new survey.

Some 11 per cent of staff working in residential care homes for people over 65 or with dementia said they were not being tested once a week.

The Government pledged weekly testing for all staff in these care homes in early July, regardless of symptoms.

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In November this was extended to home care workers and in December to hospice staff.

The survey by Unison involved nearly 13,000 UK care staff including 5,929 residential care home workers.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of the care staff worked in other settings such as hospices, 18 per cent in supported living and 12 per cent in homecare.

Of the residential care home staff receiving weekly tests, 10 per cent waited more than 72 hours for their results.

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Some experienced hold-ups of more than a week - or did not get results back at all.

A small number were forced to take time off unpaid or were put on statutory sick pay because of the long wait for results, Unison said.

Overall, 40 per cent of the care staff surveyed said they had been unable to get a test within the previous four weeks.

One care worker said: "My place of work is only providing regular testing for staff with symptoms. Otherwise we have to arrange our own tests."

Another told Unison: "I'm constantly worried and stressed. I can't take any time off because I'm on a zero hours contract. If I did, I wouldn't be paid."

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: "It's a major concern they're still being let down. A repeat of what happened during the first wave must be avoided at all costs.

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"Delays and lack of access to testing is putting workers, their families, and the people who depend on them at risk. Employers can't afford to have staff off work - and workers can't afford the hit financially.

"The Government must get a grip on testing, honour its promises and ensure care staff have proper access to checks. Care staff will be hoping that the rollout of the vaccine happens much more smoothly."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "This survey appears to be mixing up categories of care workers to reach its conclusions and since it was launched more than two months ago, we have rolled out further regular testing, including to hospice and homecare workers.

"From the start of the pandemic, we have been doing everything we can to keep care home staff protected, including providing free priority testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

"Thanks to an incredible amount of hard work and planning, hospitals across the country have also already begun vaccinating care home staff as a priority."

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "It's hugely concerning to hear that so many care staff aren't getting the tests they need

"It's so desperately important that the promised reunion of people with dementia and their families happens swiftly and safely, after months and months of tragedy - without regular testing, staff won't know to self-isolate if they have the virus without symptoms.

"At least 70 per cent of care home residents have dementia, 60 per cent of those who receive care at home - people must be able to safely receive essential care in their own homes.”

Unison is calling on the Government to set up a monitoring system to ensure staff get tests each week

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