Minister For Care Makes U-Turn On Regular COVID-19 Testing For Social Care

By Rachael Grealish

Staff and residents in care homes for over 65s and those with dementia will receive regular coronavirus tests from next week as part of a new social care testing strategy.

Staff will be tested for coronavirus weekly, while residents will receive a test every 28 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus in social care.

This is in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak, or at increased risk of an outbreak.

The new testing strategy comes following the latest advice from SAGE and new evidence from the Vivaldi 1 study indicating a higher prevalence in care homes, and therefore a case for frequent testing in care homes and their staff.

The Vivaldi 1 study, which surveyed almost 9,000 care home managers and analysed data from whole care home testing, identified the higher levels of the virus among care staff, particularly among temporary staff who work in multiple care settings.

The study suggests that care home staff may be at increased risk of contracting the virus, which they may then pass on to others if they have no symptoms.

This news comes after the debate, on June 24, in the House of Commons where MPs voted either for or against the regular testing and of NHS and social care staff for COVID-19.

The vote outcome was 198 MPs for and 344 MPs against – one of whom voted against was the Minister for Care, Helen Whately.

Whately seems to have changed her stance on the situation as she commented in the statement released by GOV.uk saying regular testing is ‘important’ and protecting staff is a ‘priority’.

She said: “Social care and its workforce are at the front line of this unprecedented pandemic with many of our care homes looking after those who are most at risk from coronavirus.

“It is our priority to protect care residents and staff and testing is a crucial part of that. That’s why from Monday residents will be offered monthly tests, and staff will be tested every week. This is so important as it means care workers can be sure they are providing the very best care without worrying if they are carrying the virus themselves.

Over the following 4 weeks, retesting will have been rolled out to all care homes for over 65s and those with dementia who have registered to receive retesting.

Repeat testing will be extended to include all care homes for working age adults in August.

The government intend to work with local directors of public health to deliver an initial round of asymptomatic whole-home testing for staff and residents at the extra care housing and supported living settings at most clinical risk.

The operational details of rolling out this testing to this sector are said to be ‘being worked through and more details will be provided shortly’.

In May, the government launched a Care Home Support Package, backed by the £600 million Infection Control Fund, to minimise risks in care homes by limiting movement of staff.

However, the government has come under intense criticism for its lack of support to care homes and their staff and have been accused of not working quick enough to protect residents and staff during the pandemic.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “Our response to this global pandemic has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts, and we will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.

“This will not only keep residents and care workers safe, but it will give certainty and peace of mind to the families who may be worried about their loved ones, and give staff the confidence to do what they do best.”

David Pearson CBE, Chair of the Adult Social Care Support Taskforce has written to care providers this week outlining the importance of reducing movement between care homes, making best use of the Infection Control Fund.

David Pearson CBE, Chair of the Adult Social Care Support Taskforce said: “Protecting staff and residents inside our care homes is an absolute priority throughout all phases of the pandemic.

“Testing is clearly an important part of this, particularly regular testing in key areas where prevalence is likely to be high.

“This new phase in our testing strategy is an important step in protecting the 1.5 million care home staff across the country and the residents they care for.

“We are prioritising those care homes for older residents and those with dementia, but will expand this even further by August.”