Ministers warned over ‘complacency’ on care home testing pledge

Ministers have been told there is "no room for complacency" as they moved to ramp up coronavirus testing in hundreds of care homes across the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Shropshire.

Testing for NHS workers is taking place at Edgbaston, but hundreds of care home staff have not yet been tested
Testing for NHS workers is taking place at Edgbaston, but hundreds of care home staff have not yet been tested

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has increased laboratory capacity in a bid to make good on his vow to test all residents and staff with symptoms.

Care homes around the country have reported thousands of deaths since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, none of which are included in the official hospitals death rate.

The National Care Association (NCA) today warned there were now "no excuses" for testing not to take place when needed at more than 1,600 care homes in the region.

Nadra Ahmed, executive chairman of the NCA, said: "The primary aim of care providers has always been to protect the people we care for and those who support them, our amazing workforce.

"Sadly, the lack of testing and the issues of access to personal protective equipment has made it challenging and exhausting for care services as the virus began to emerge.

"We now must be sure that the testing promised is readily and easily available for the residents and staff working in social care – there is no room for complacency or excuses."

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According to the Care Quality Commission, there are 543 care homes in the Black Country and 243 across Staffordshire. They are believed to employ more than 21,000 staff.

​Shropshire has 118 care homes registered, employing around 4,500 staff.

Staff testing for Covid-19 has been a major problem since the pandemic began, with the Government admitting that only 505 social care staff in the country had been tested by April 13.

Other care settings including hospices have also struggled.

Anxieties

Rachel Overfield, director of nursing at Compton Care in Wolverhampton, said: "We are struggling with where we can send staff for testing. We don't fit into hospital testing and we don't fit into care home testing.

"It would help us hugely if we knew whether our staff were infected or not. They are doing a fantastic job but the lack of testing is causing anxieties."

Testing centres, such as the one at Edgbaston in Birmingham, have been opened for NHS staff.

The Government says it has already started testing social care workers and will roll this out nationwide in the coming days as it continues to "ramp up" the testing programme.

Patients discharged from hospital will continue to return to their care homes, but will be tested before they do so.

Mr Hancock said home testing kits were "rapidly" being developed.

He added: "Testing is key in our battle against coronavirus, and as part of our plan to prevent the spread and save lives we will ensure that everyone in social care who needs a test can have a test."

Social care minister Helen Whately said it was "almost unavoidable" that there would be virus outbreaks in care homes, which are "used to" infection control because of seasonal flu.

Labour said increased testing in the sector was essential to tackling what was an "emerging crisis".

Liz Kendall, the party's shadow minister for social care, said: "The government has rightly said the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

"This must also apply to social care, which needs a much greater priority and focus than it has had so far."

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