COVID testing overlooks parts of social care – Parity required across adult social care


The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) is calling for full parity in the government’s social care COVID-testing programme after it announced the roll out of ‘whole care home testing’.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced that from today, 7 June 2020, care homes catering for adults with learning disabilities or mental health needs, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and other conditions will also be able to access COVID-19 testing.

While a welcome announcement, VODG is concerned that government is continuing to overlook other parts of the sector including people who live in their own homes and supported living.

Commenting on the announcement Dr Rhidian Hughes, VODG chief executive, said:

“We are pleased that the Department of Health and Social Care will open up testing to everyone living in care homes, regardless of age or condition. But people who use other care services, such as care at home and supported living, have an equal right to be tested too.

“We have serious concerns about the lack of parity in government’s approach to testing. Government must protect all citizens, and we are concerned that its current programme continues to overlook some types of support for disabled people and the staff and carers.

“Testing needs to be made available immediate for disabled people using care services whether living in their own home or supported living and whether symptomatic or not.

“As a country, we have been, and will continue to face an unprecedented crisis in the form of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We need government to apply testing, and all subsequent public health measures, in an equitable and consistent way across the country.

“The decisions made today that are negatively impacting on disabled people need to be put right to ensure these mistakes are not replicated in future decision making.”

Meanwhile, the National Care Forum welcomes the announcement that whole home testing will be offered to a wider range of care settings, including specialist learning disability and mental health care homes, from today, Sunday 7 June.

The initial promise of whole home testing was accompanied by a pledge that all care homes for over-65s would be offered testing by 6 June. The National Care Forum (NCF) has surveyed its members to gain an understanding of the experience of whole home testing amongst our members in the run up to the deadline. We had responses relating to 264 care homes who catered for people over 65.

As of 2/6/20, 87% of these care homes have been tested while the remaining 13% are still waiting to receive home testing kits. This bodes well for the prospects of the government meeting its 6 June target.

The whole home testing programme still faces significant challenges in terms of accuracy and timeliness of test results. Our survey showed that 43% of care homes tested received test results which included void and inconclusive results. Furthermore, 12% are still waiting for results.

Our findings also offer some useful insight into the trends relating to asymptomatic and symptomatic residents and staff:

  • The majority of respondents indicated that between 0% and 10% of staff who tested positive were asymptomatic.
  • The majority of respondents indicated that between 0% and 10% of residents who tested positive were asymptomatic, with a significant minority of respondents reporting a higher range of between 40% and 60%
  • The majority of respondents indicated that between 30% and 60% of residents who had symptoms tested positive

These trends emphasise the fundamental need for routine, regular testing across all care settings to enable us to win the battle against COVID-19. We need to test regularly – we would recommend weekly drawing on evidence identified in international research* – as the numbers of asymptomatic staff and residents testing positive illustrate. This will also enable us to establish clearly which of those residents who are showing symptoms are actually COVID-19 positive and which aren’t.

To date the whole home testing programme has only been able to guarantee one round of testing in each home. It’s very clear that, as the NCF has been saying for months, the programme must now move to regular testing across all care settings – not just care homes – in order to be able to track the spread of COVID-19 and effectively mitigate against it.

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum says:

“Testing of all those receiving care and the staff delivering it has been recognised as an absolute priority. Our survey results highlight some key lessons that we have learnt from this first round of testing in terms of accuracy, timeliness and frequency. It is clear that there is a need to improve the accuracy and timeliness of the results from testing to enable social care providers to respond quickly to manage and prevent COVID-19 infections.

Our findings also highlight key insights into the number of COVID-19 positive tests in asymptomatic staff and residents which emphasises why it is absolutely vital that we move to regular and repeat testing as it is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19.

The findings related to the proportion of symptomatic residents who are not testing positive reinforces the need for regular, repeat testing to avoid unnecessary isolation and the impact this has on the mental health and wellbeing of residents.

We welcome the positive step the government is taking today with its announcement that it will be rolling out whole care home testing with plans to extend the testing to a wider range of care settings.”


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