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Coronavirus UK: Care residents and staff face 5-week test delay

Care home residents and staff in England are facing more than month-long waits for coronavirus tests because of an issue with a Government supplier.

Andrew Knight, chief executive of Care UK, warned many of its 100-plus homes face a minimum of five weeks before getting access to swabs, in a leaked letter seen by Sky News. 

Care homes were only given access to weekly testing at the start of this month, after pressure mounted on ministers to protect the sector which was devastated by the initial wave of coronavirus.

Mr Knight wrote: ‘We have been notified by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that due to an issue with a particular test from one supplier, we will no longer have access to weekly testing for colleagues or monthly testing for residents.

‘Communication from the government on this matter has been sorely lacking. I am sure many of you will find this situation as disappointing as I do, especially given the positive messages the government is still issuing about the scale of the testing programme it is supposedly offering.’

Care UK said the five-week wait would only affect asymptomatic staff and residents and that people with flu-like symptoms would still be tested immediately. 

The letter was leaked by a concerned relative who blasted the Government’s handling of care homes as ‘scandalous’.

An independent review into the treatment of care homes through the crisis said they were ‘thrown to the wolves’ thanks to a series of policy blunders. 

Advising hospitals to discharge thousands of patients into care homes without knowing if they had was an example of this, according to a damning Commons report.

In excoriating comments, the Commons public accounts committee report said: ‘This pandemic has shown the tragic impact of delaying much needed social care reform, and instead treating the sector as the NHS’s poor relation.’ 

The group of cross-party MPs said that discharging around 25,000 patients to free up beds was an example of this.

The report added that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) continued with the policy ‘even once it was clear there was an emerging problem’.

Hospitals in England were asked on March 17 to discharge patients, but patients did not require a coronavirus test prior to discharge until April 15 in an ‘appalling error’.

And it was the end of April when the Government said all care home residents and staff, regardless of symptoms, would be able to access tests. This is despite Public Health England telling the committee it knew of asymptomatic transmission as early as the end of March.

The report said nobody would expect the Government to get everything right in its initial response, but that it ‘urgently needs to reflect, acknowledge its mistakes, and learn from them’.

It identified a lack of transparency around the availability of personal protective equipment, with a tendency for the Government to ‘overpromise and under deliver’. The report warned that staff could not be expected to be ready to cope with a future peak and deal with enormous backlogs unless they were managed well.

MPs said failure to protect staff by providing adequate PPE had impacted ‘morale and confidence’. A lack of timely testing also ‘led to increased stress and absence’.

Committee chairman Meg Hillier said: ‘The failure to provide adequate PPE or testing to the millions of staff and volunteers who risked their lives to help us through the first peak of the crisis is a sad, low moment in our national response.

‘Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.’

She added: ‘The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families. They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame.

‘We weren’t prepared for the first wave. Putting all else aside, Government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.’

The report, Readying the NHS and social care for the Covid-19 peak, is the PAC’s first examination of the health and social care response to the crisis. It also said allowing the Nightingale hospitals to remain empty while the NHS requires additional capacity for routine services ‘will not be a good use of public money’.

A DHSC spokesman said: ‘We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and we will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure the reforms will last long into the future.’

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