At last. Some decisive action on testing in care homes. News from the government that care home staff will be tested weekly for coronavirus, and care home residents routinely tested on a monthly basis, could not have come soon enough.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately said several days ago:
Social care and its workforce are at the front line of this unprecedented pandemic with many of our care homes looking after those who are most at risk from coronavirus.
It is our priority to protect care residents and staff and testing is a crucial part of that. That’s why from Monday residents will be offered monthly tests, and staff will be tested every week. This is so important as it means care workers can be sure they are providing the very best care without worrying if they are carrying the virus themselves.
Testing to stop spikes
As testing (along with social distancing and vigilant hygiene) is widely agreed to be the main weapon in keeping transmission rates in check, the presence of regular, organised testing for staff in care homes and those within them, is key. The lockdown is now being relaxed and localised spikes in infections will be picked up – testing is the only way to keep on top of these and keep the most vulnerable in our care homes safe.
The delay in the introduction of testing in care settings has been much criticised by those in the care sector and blamed for the high death rates in care homes from Covid-19. The discharge from hospital of people into care homes without being tested first, led to widespread disbelief and frustration among care providers, striving every day to keep their residents safe.
Government guidance for the care sector in this crisis has frequently been shambolic, with reports from beleaguered Registered Managers of an avalanche of updated procedures issued day by day. Already under-staffed and battling to keep service users virus-free, unhelpful comments from the Prime Minister on care homes that ‘didn’t really follow the procedures’ enraged many.
There have been a number of incidences of care homes (understandably in the confused circumstances) ignoring the advice of the government and independently taking their own steps to safeguard the health of those in their care. With such a confused picture being painted by central government, who can blame them? By following their instincts instead of government advice and shutting their homes early, refusing to accept any new residents from hospitals and in some cases moving staff into homes temporarily to reduce transmission risk, they successfully protected those they care for.
On July 15th in Prime Minister’s Questions, when pressed by Liberal Democrat Ed Davey MP, Mr Johnson committed to holding an Independent Inquiry into the Government’s Handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Whether that commitment will be honoured is anyone’s guess, but if it does happen, at the top of the scrutiny list should be the government’s pitiful handling of the whole care home debacle in which thousands of excess deaths occurred.
These have indeed been testing times. The introduction of regular testing in care homes of staff and residents is a positive development to be welcomed. It will help people stay safe. And any future Independent Inquiry worth its salt will be asking the question: Why did it take so long?
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