Care workers unable to access COVID-19 testing

May 5, 2020

The National Care Forum (NCF) has found that some care workers are unable to access COVID-19 testing, despite Government committing to provide tests for all social care workers.

In April, the Social Care Action Plan made an absolute commitment to testing for care workers, stating, 'We are rolling out testing of social care workers...There is now capacity available for every social care worker who needs a test to have one, just as there is for NHS staff and their families.'

However, after surveying its members about the new testing arrangements, NCF found this promise is not being met.

The survey represents the perspectives of a wide range of organisations who between them employ 31,262 staff. Of these, 6,469 were identified as being a priority for testing (due to having symptoms) and attempts were made to get them tested. Less than a quarter (1,436) were actually tested (22%).

The survey shows that the employer portal is not working for social care employers. Using this route, only 2% of staff (138 out of 6,469) were able to receive a test at drive-through centres, with no home testing being available on the system via this route. There is a significant manual backlog in the system, which means that large numbers of providers seeking to access testing via this route are not yet even entered onto the system, and there is no prioritisation for social care employers.

One NCF member said, ‘I sent an email on Monday 27th April to register onto the portal and sent it again on 29th April. After not hearing from them I phoned on 1st May to be told there was a backlog with registration onto the portal and I had to wait. The contact couldn't give me a timeframe and as of today (4.5.20), we have still not been contacted.’

Another member told NCF, ‘We have not had any success with the employer portal. Despite several e-mails being sent to register we have not heard anything back at all. Therefore, none of our staff have been able to be tested through this process.’

The self-referral portal appeared to prove more successful, with 583 staff managing to get a test via this route. Out of this number, 546 attended drive-through appointments but only 37 received home testing kits. This route, whilst proving more successful, only enabled 9% of the staff who needed testing to obtain a test.

There are a number of significant issues with the self-referral route, says NCF. There is no prioritisation for care staff, meaning social care staff must compete against all other eligible key workers and members of the public.

Local testing systems seem to be the most successful for care workers to access COVID-19 testing, where they are in place. NCF found that 715 members of staff have managed to access testing through local systems. However, this is only 11% of the total number of staff who need testing. Local testing systems remain hugely variable and inconsistent across localities – where they work well, testing is effective and efficient and responsive. However, it is a postcode lottery.

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum says, 'The government’s promise to provide tests for all staff is exposed as pure words. Social care needs to be systematically prioritised in each and every testing system, in order for government to live up to its commitment.

We are calling for the prioritisation of social care employers through the Getting Tested Portal to ensure they have a strategic and targeted prioritisation of all their employees – regardless of symptoms as previously promised by the Government and for social care workers to be given priority status on the self-referral portal.'

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