Politics

How coronavirus testing chaos may trigger another crisis in care homes

UK care home bosses are warning that the threat of a second wave of coronavirus cases among their residents is being heightened by long waits for Covid test results.

The government last week unveiled a new “adult social care winter plan” that orders care providers to stop all but essential movement of staff between care homes to prevent the spread of infection.

But care home staff fear that the “shambolic” testing system will trigger “further fatal outbreaks”, the Daily Mail reports.

The tests problem

Boris Johnson has faced widespread criticism over his government’s handling of the Covid crisis in care homes, which have been asked to take in hospital patients who have tested positive for the virus.

A care home boss in Devon told Sky News in April that the official policy was “importing death into care homes” and “sacrificing the elderly”.

A new survey by the Daily Mail of 19 care providers that run a total of 393 homes found that a third had staff or residents who had tested positive in the previous two weeks, and “in most cases, results came late”.

“Several providers had to wait as long as 15 days and in some cases heard nothing from laboratories,” the newspaper reports.

And nine “said they had to throw away tests after couriers did not turn up on time”, while ”one had to ditch 250 swabs in a week”.

What are the new plans?

Amid the ongoing outcry over testing shortages and delays, the government announced on Friday that care homes in England will receive extra funding to the tune of £546m to combat outbreaks during the winter.

The BBC says the money will be used to pay workers full wages when they are self-isolating, and “ensures carers only work in one care home, reducing the spread of the virus”. The funding will also be used to help care workers reduce their use of public transport and stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE), Johnson said.

But new restrictions on visits may make care homes feel more like prisons, according to the i news site, which warns that some residents “face up to a year without visits from loved ones”.

Updated government guidance also states that some Covid-positive patients can still be discharged from hospital into care homes, with the caveat that no provider will be forced to accept these patients if they cannot deal with the coronavirus safely.

What next?

According to experts, the government’s plan to exempt care homes that cannot deal with outbreaks safely will enable many facilities to opt out of accepting high-risk patients.

Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday, National Care Association chair Nadra Ahmed suggested that the government had drawn unrealistic battle lines, noting that “not many” care homes have facilities in which they can safely isolate a resident for 14 days.

Criticising ministers over the tests problems, Ahmed added: “I can’t believe they didn’t envisage that there would be an increase in demand for tests and results in a timely manner as lockdown was eased.

“We can’t deal with a postcode lottery at this critical time. As it stands, it is utterly chaotic, shambolic and a disgrace.”

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