Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

Care home residents are NOT receiving weekly Covid tests despite promises

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Many care homes have also been unable to vaccinate vulnerable people against flu because of supply problems, said Professor Martin Green, who said the testing regime was “in chaos”. “There have been a lot of promises made around this that have not been honoured, What happened to the ring of steel around care homes that was pledged by government? It’s ridiculous.” he said.

Conservative peer Baroness Ros Altman said: “It is beyond belief that we’re still leaving care homes without the testing that they desperately need. It is also cruel to leave care residents as sitting ducks not knowing what will happen and living with dread and fear in their daily lives, not knowing if they have picked up the virus.

“It is clear that the testing system is not working properly but we don’t know why. Everyone is blaming everyone else. We need Parliamentary accountability to find out what’s going on.“

Between March and June nearly 20,000 care home residents died with Covid-19 in the UK.

The disease accounts for just below a third of all deaths in the homes. Research also shows one in four people who die with Covid-19 have dementia, making it one of the largest risk factors for the disease.

In July, the government announced that staff working in care homes would receive a weekly coronavirus test. Residents were due to be tested every month.

But Professor Green, whose work covers care homes across England, said these plans had not been delivered.

Although there are no official figures on how many tests are carried out in care homes Professor Green said in some parts of the country there are reports that care homes are waiting 15 days for results to come back. In many other cases he said, results were coming back after the next test is due.

He said: “We were promised weekly testing of the staff and monthly testing for residents but the testing regime is in chaos.

“Some areas are unable to get tests on time and other areas and not getting results quickly enough.”

Elsewhere care homes owners have complained that tests have been lost or been forced to throw away hundreds of tests because couriers did not turn up in time.

Professor Green said: “The testing regime has got worse as time has gone on due to the increase in demand. But care home staff and residents should be a priority group.

“Reliable, accurate, speedy and efficient testing is crucial for care home residents, relatives and staff. Care homes are an absolute priority and the government must do everything It can to ensure this.”

He added there were also problems with the flu vaccines, with staff unable to get sufficient quantities.

Government scientists have encouraged people to get the flu jab this autumn following a study that indicated having both coronavirus and flu at the same time puts people at a significantly higher risk of dying.

The over-65s have priority for a vaccine, although all over 50s are recommended to receive one this year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there will be enough to go round, but Boots has stopped offering the treatment to the under 65s.

Professor Green said many care home had also struggled to get the vaccines.

He said: ”We were also promised flu vaccines for staff and residents but in many areas of the country these have been suspended because of supply problems. What on earth has happened? They knew we needed this for months. Many people I speak to are trying to book vaccines via a website and are facing massive queues.”

He questioned why the treatments were not in place despite care home being such a soft target for Covid.

He said: “They made this big announcement in July about what they will deliver and I simply don’t know how this has failed.

“Many care homes as a result are not able to reinstate visitors.

“The problems of care homes that led to so many deaths including testing and PPE have not been resolved and I don’t understand why.

“It’s six months on and the Department of Health and Social Care had plenty of warning.

“Some people haven’t seen a relative for months. We need regular and reliable testing there have been a lot of promises made around this and around flu vaccines that have not been honoured.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, a leading expert in virology at the University of Aberdeen, said testing was vital, and that it was pointless to hope a vaccine would save the day.

He said: “The biggest scandal is infections and deaths in care homes, and this has not been completely resolved.

“If you were to have a good testing regime for staff every two weeks you could be as certain as anyone could be on anything that there is no virus in a home and there would be no more death and relatives could visit.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “The fact that COVID cases are rising again in care homes is the worst possible news and will be filling millions of older people and their families with dread.

“Testing remains hugely problematic, and utterly crucial especially for care homes where the number of cases of Covid is already on the rise again. A lot depends on access to reliable, speedy testing and this is an area where Government must up its game and if there are any gaps they need to be filled and fast .

“Care homes were unprepared for Covid-19 when it first came roaring in and support was very much too little too late. None of us will ever forget what happened and for every care home resident we must make sure that it never happens again.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “From the start of the pandemic we have been doing everything we can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected, including testing all residents and staff, providing 200 million items of PPE, ring-fencing £1.1bn to prevent infections in care homes and making a further £3.7bn available to councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic – including in adult social care.

“We are providing tests at an unprecedented scale – 225,000 a day on average over the last week – but there has been significant demand. We are expanding capacity rapidly as well as bringing in new technology to process tests faster.

“This winter we have sufficient flu vaccine for up to 30 million people in England. Flu vaccination deliveries for those who are in at risk groups has started and will continue in all areas in England throughout the winter months.”

* Care homes will be given iPads to help residents keep in touch with their loved ones and reduce the risk of loneliness as part of plans to ensure the social care sector is supported throughout winter.

Up to 11,000 iPad tablets, worth £7.5 million, will be distributed to thousands of care homes across England to support residents and staff

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “These tablets will be the gateway for so many residents to connect with loved ones, and allow staff to quickly access digital NHS services and information, to help stop Covid-19 outbreaks in their tracks.”

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