National Care Forum (NCF) has stated its concerns around COVID-19 testing for social care following the announcement that anyone over the age of five is eligible for coronavirus testing if they have symptoms.
It says that, despite Government’s efforts to develop a testing programme for social care, the arrangements remain chaotic, there is no reliable timescale for getting the test results and there are simply not enough tests prioritised for social care.
The announcement that everyone aged over five in the UK with symptoms can now be tested for coronavirus, will only make this testing chaos worse says the representative body.
NCF is therefore calling for more tests to be made available to the care sector as a matter of priority, suggesting the sector needs 200,000 routine and regular tests per day across the care sector to get on top of this health pandemic.
Its concerns around testing for social care have also led the association to ask for a guarantee that any systems that are put in place will focus on ensuring care workers and people receiving care are prioritised. This will help manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks across care settings.
In a survey of its members, NCF has discovered that the testing process remains chaotic. Despite the myriad testing routes available - at least six for staff and at least five for people using services – many differ on a local level depending on how teams interpret government guidance and their local capacity for testing.
NCF members said:
'There have been numerous changes to the staff testing process over the past six weeks which has made it very difficult to co-ordinate. Even though it has now been announced that all care staff can be tested, regardless of whether they are symptomatic, some organisations have still told us that we can only test staff who have symptoms.'
'It has been frustrating and confusing with different information through the GOV.UK networks to find out who is doing what and shifting responsibilities between different agencies, along with delays in results.'
The survey also found that the speed at which test results are returned varies widely. For the majority of testing routes for staff and residents, this is between 24 hours and six days. Results from home testing kits were much faster than other testing routes for both staff and residents, ranging between 24 hours and four days. However, a large number of test results are returning ‘void’ or ‘inconclusive’ owing to delays in obtaining results or faulty tests.
'In one of our care homes, 17 resident tests came back ‘void’ because of a faulty machine at the lab. This meant that all of those residents had to be re-tested, which was concerning. We have also received test results from other care homes (not in our group), and have received results for an individual with the correct surname but incorrect forename. This is very concerning as it makes us question the validity of the results we are receiving.'
Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum says, 'There are currently 30,000 tests available to care homes, which equates to 300 care homes per day receiving tests. This is in no way near enough of the amount of tests required for the care sector. We need to see at least 200,000 routine and regular tests each day in the care sector alone. The speed and quality of the testing process is currently a postcode lottery and doesn’t appear to be based on need. Some of our members are being told they won’t be tested until 6th June which is much too late.
'We are asking for more tests to be made available for care providers to make sure that the Government holds to its promise to keep the most vulnerable and those who care for them safe during this pandemic. Now is not the time to lose that focus and drive. We need to focus on testing for social care, making sure that the tests are processed quickly, the results are accurate and they come back promptly.
'Along with the increase in the number of tests for social care, it is clear that we need to see an improvement in the quality and accuracy of the testing process and analysis so we can make proper use of the results.'