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Coronavirus: More Tests Promised For Care Homes

April 15, 2020

All care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested for coronavirus as laboratory capacity increases, the government has promised.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “determined” to ensure everyone who needed a test had access to one.

Labour welcomed the pledge but said the social care sector needed more support.

Care providers have been calling for more testing for weeks, with charities saying the virus is “running wild” amid outbreaks at more than 2,000 homes.

At the moment only the first five residents who show symptoms in a care home are tested, to determine whether there is an outbreak of the virus.

Providers have also complained that deaths among residents were being “airbrushed” out of official figures and demanded greater support for the industry.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is urging the government to publish an exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown.

Sir Keir said his party would support the government if, as expected, it extends lockdown measures later this week. But he called for more transparency about how and when the rules will be relaxed.

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned of “tough times” ahead for the economy after a bleak forecast of the fiscal impact of the pandemic.

However, Mr Sunak insisted: “It’s not a case of choosing between the economy and public health.”

Figures released on Tuesday revealed 12,107 people had died in hospital with the virus, an increase of 778 on the previous day.

And Office for National Statistics data, which includes every community death linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales, showed 406 such deaths registered up to 3 April had occurred outside of hospitals – 217 of them in care homes.

However, the total is expected to have increased since then.

Britain’s largest care home operator, HC-One, said the virus represented about one-third of all deaths at HC-One’s care homes over the last three weeks. And MHA, a charity which operates 131 homes, said it had recorded 210 coronavirus-related deaths to date.

Mr Hancock said he would ensure anyone in a care home with symptoms of the virus, as well as any new care home residents being discharged from hospital into care, would be tested.

“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,” Mr Hancock said.

‘Sense of insecurity’

Gail Grant, from Swindon in Wiltshire, has not been able to visit her husband Ian for three weeks.

Ian, a former dentist, has dementia and lives in a care home in Marlborough, some 12 miles away. He turned 70 this month.

“Because of his cognitive level, we can’t Skype or talk on the phone. He doesn’t have any understanding of the situation and doesn’t really know us anymore. But it’s more me – I’m aware I’m not going to see him,” Dr Grant says.

“They say they don’t have any cases at the moment at his home. But I think it’s a matter of time. And when any carers go down with it, it will be a difficult situation.”

She says of the official figures currently just including hospital deaths: “What right do they have to withhold information that should be in the public domain?”

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is co-ordinating the effort and will offer tests to the UK’s 30,000 care providers by the end of the week, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

Mr Hancock is set to give further details of the scheme when the government’s coronavirus social care action plan is outlined on Wednesday.

The increased tests in care homes will bring the government closer to its target of completing 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, the government said.

‘Not hopeful’

The latest figures show a total of 302,599 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the UK.

Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at LSE, told BBC Newsnight the government was “nowhere near” hitting its target.

“I just don’t know how they can,” she said.

“We don’t have the same infrastructure and laboratory capacity of some of the countries which are really leading the way on this like South Korea and Germany. So I hope they can [hit the target], but I’m not hopeful they will.”

Labour’s shadow minister for social care, Liz Kendall, said her party looked forward to details of how the increased testing would be delivered.

The government’s pledge to give the NHS whatever resources it needs to tackle the pandemic “must also apply to social care”, she said.

Ms Kendall also called on ministers to ensure care homes are given sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely care for people with the virus.

And she renewed her party’s call for the government to release daily figures on deaths outside hospitals “so we know the full scale of the challenge we face”.

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