Testing for all who need it?
It has taken far too long, but finally the government has acted. Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has today announced the roll-out of testing for coronavirus to all care home residents and social care staff with Covid-19 symptoms.
The current situation in a growing number of care homes is nothing short of heartbreaking, and whilst this move is to be welcomed, it is nonetheless a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. At the time of writing, the death toll in care homes due to coronavirus is at unprecedented levels and growing. Two of the main care home providers have reported 521 deaths from Covid-19, but the true picture can be hard to assess. Dedicated and committed staff who care deeply for residents and view them as family, are fighting losing battles to protect them. Meanwhile, loved ones are kept at a distance, unable to comfort relatives in their time of greatest need, leading to extreme distress for all.
The unchecked spread of the disease in care homes has been exacerbated by lack of testing, and shambolic and inadequate access to PPE for the care sector, putting carers at risk and leading to high instances of absenteeism through enforced self-isolation. Add to that the readmission of residents from hospital settings without testing, and the huge difficulties of caring for those with dementia related conditions who find the restrictions necessary bewildering, and you find yourself wondering how did we get into such an impossible situation?
Whilst welcoming the testing development, Professor Martin Green OBE Chief Executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care said:
During this dreadful pandemic it is hard to find things to be positive about, but today’s announcement from DHSC that testing will be available for all social care staff and residents that need it is indeed welcome. Care homes will be in a much better position to face this virus head on once they have been able to test both their staff, residents and new residents who have been discharged from hospital into their care homes.
Dr Jane Townson of the UK Home Care Association had a different take. She also welcomed the news of testing in care homes and of care workers, but questioned the sense of leaving home care clients out of the decision:
UKHCA has been lobbying for weeks for increased testing for COVID-19. The government has finally woken up to the fact that this is vital for protecting high risk people receiving care and their care workers. It is also important for maintaining workforce capacity. Omitting home care clients from their testing plans makes no sense.
Anyone discharged from hospital, whether to care homes or home care, needs to be tested to minimise spread of infection and to ensure limited supplies of PPE can be targeted effectively. We are not convinced the testing capacity is yet sufficient to do all that the government claims in their statement. Time will tell if this is wishful thinking.
Care Quality Commission will coordinate the testing for the care sector, and have already offered 6,000 care facilities the opportunity to test their staff. By the end of the week all 30,000 care providers will have been contacted.
The situation is obviously very fluid and subject to change. The measures confirmed today by the government are expected to be outlined further in their COVID-19 social care action plan tomorrow – something the whole sector is awaiting with interest.
When this terrible crisis is over and the Royal Commissions and enquiries dig deep to discover why the plight of so many elderly and vulnerable people went unrecognised by government for so long, we must hope and believe that lessons will be learned for the future.