UK’s largest social care provider will have no access to regular coronavirus testing for five weeks

Latest achievement from our “world beating” Covid-19 testing system: halt regular testing in care homes!

“The UK’s largest independent provider of social care has issued a warning that it will have no access to regular coronavirus testing for residents and staff in England for at least five weeks.”

Andrew Woodcock Political Editor

In a letter to relatives of residents, Care UK chief executive Andrew Knight, said the Department of Health was blaming issues with kits from a particular supplier, but said communication with government had been “sorely lacking”.

Liberal Democrats said that thousands of people would miss out on vital tests as a result of the issue. Days after a damning parliamentary report which found that Boris Johnson’s government threw care home residents “to the wolves” in the early stages of the pandemic, party health spokesperson Munira Wilson said the new revelations showed that this was still the case today.

Care UK runs more than 110 homes across the country, and Mr Knight warned that similar problems were affecting other major care organisations. The halt in regular testing comes as Mr Johnson is stressing the importance of the test and trace system to fend off the threat of a second wave of coronavirus.

It is understood that the government’s recall of kits supplied by private company Randox on safety grounds on 15 July caused significant disruption to the provision of tests for weekly and 28-day tests in care homes in England, while access remained readily available in Scotland.

Since 6 July, care homes in England have been promised regular testing on a weekly basis for staff and every 28 days for residents. Repeat testing for asymptomatic individuals was initially limited to care homes looking after people aged over 65 or those with dementia, but is due be rolled out to all care homes from August.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) stressed that anyone living or working in a care home who has coronavirus symptoms or suspects they have the disease will still be able to access testing via Local Health Protection teams.

Announcing the rollout of regular tests less than four weeks ago, health secretary Matt Hancock said the scheme would “not only keep residents and care workers safe, but 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”.

But Mr Knight said that optimism about regular testing had been “short-lived” and it was now “increasingly difficult to access regular testing across all of our homes”.

The Care UK CEO said: “We have been notified by 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. We have also been in contact with the DHSC, the Social Care Taskforce and the care minister to ask that this situation is resolved quickly, but the latest indications we have suggest that for most of our homes in England there will be a minimum of five weeks wait before we are able to access another round of testing.

“We have been exploring options for privately-funded testing, but as yet have been unable to identify a supplier who is able to reliably support us at the scale we require. This experience is mirrored across other major care organisations.”

Regular testing for care homes was introduced following anger over coronavirus outbreaks which claimed thousands of lives of elderly residents in the early weeks of the pandemic.

But on 15 July, the DHSC announced that some kits supplied by Northern Ireland-based Randox were being withdrawn as they did not meet safety standards. The department said at the time that it would be “supporting all testing settings to receive replacement kits as soon as possible”. But care sources said that new supplies had not materialised at the necessary scale.

Mr Knight told families of residents: “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.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “If we needed any evidence that this Government is still throwing care homes to the wolves, then this is it. From the very beginning of the pandemic this Government failed to ensure care homes had access to adequate testing and PPE, whilst discharging patients with the virus into their homes.

“This letter is damning. With a potential second peak on the horizon, the UK’s largest provider of social care no longer having access to regular testing for staff and residents will leave thousands of our most vulnerable exposed to coronavirus.

“The prime minister and his government are not learning the lessons they need to if we are to prevent more people losing their lives. An inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis must begin now, so ministers can learn from their errors and help protect families right across the country from more heartache.”