After thousands of coronavirus deaths in care homes, government announces regular testing programme for staff and residents

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Staff and residents in care homes for people over 65 or with dementia will be regularly tested for coronavirus (Covid-19) from week beginning 6 July, the government has announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced a new social care testing strategy on 3 July. As part of the strategy, staff will be tested weekly, while residents will receive a test every 28 days. This is in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak or at increased risk of a flare-up, the department added.

The repeat testing programme will be rolled out over the next four weeks to all care homes for the over-65s and those with dementia which have registered to receive retesting. It will be extended to the entire care home sector from August.

At least 14.7k coronavirus deaths in care homes

There have already been at least 14,658 deaths linked to coronavirus in care homes across England and Wales. This figure only indicates deaths registered up to 19 June, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data. The real figure is likely to be higher. The government has faced criticism for failing to protect care homes from the virus. Health secretary Matt Hancock said:

Our response to this global pandemic has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts, and we will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.

A National Audit Office report last month claimed that around 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes in England at the height of the pandemic without all being tested for coronavirus. Care homes have also been plagued with critical shortages in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Results from study

The new testing strategy comes following the latest advice from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and new evidence indicating a higher prevalence in care homes, the DHSC said.

The Vivaldi 1 study, which surveyed almost 9,000 care home managers and analysed data from care home testing, identified higher levels of the virus among care staff – particularly among temporary staff working in multiple care settings, the department added.

The new repeat testing programme was welcomed by care sector leaders, who said it was “absolutely essential” to support care homes managing the spread of infection.

Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green said:

The testing programme is one of the cornerstones of Covid-19 prevention, and we are pleased that the Department of Health and Social Care has recognise this, and responded with a comprehensive approach to repeat testing.

Vic Rayner, executive director of National Care forum, said:

Access to repeat and regular testing is absolutely central to support care homes in managing the spread of infection within care homes.

Testing has proved to be a vital tool in the box for providers and the continued expansion of the testing regime is essential.

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