Only one-fifth of care workers able to access testing, survey finds

Vic Rayner, executive director, NCF

Promises to provide tests for all social care staff have been ‘exposed as pure words’, according to the National Care Forum (NCF).

The organisation, which represents social care charities, found that less than a quarter of social care staff it surveyed had been able to access testing.

The survey of 38 of its 120 members employ 31,262 staff. Of those, 6,469 were identified as being a priority for testing, due to having symptoms, and attempts were made to get them tested. However, less than a quarter (1,436) were tested (22%).

On Wednesday 15 April, the government’s Social Care Action Plan said: ‘We are rolling out testing of social care workers …. There is now capacity available for every social care worker who needs a test to have one, just as there is for NHS staff and their families.’

However, NCF said this promise was not being met.

Its survey found the employer portal was not working for social care employers. Using this route, only 2% (138 out of 6,469) of staff were able to receive a test at drive-through centres, with no home testing being available on the system via this route.

It said due to a backlog, providers looking to access testing were not entered onto the system, and there was no prioritisation for social care employers.

Using the self-referral portal, 583 staff managed to get a test. Of these, 546 attended drive-through appointments but only 37 received home testing kits. Using this route, only 9% of the staff who needed testing were able to obtain one.

The NCF said locally organised testing by Public Health England or local authorities seem to be the most successful. A total of 715 members of staff managed to access testing through local systems. However, this was only 11% of staff who needed testing.

The forum said local testing systems remained variable and inconsistent.

Vic Rayner, NCF executive director, said: ‘The government’s promise to provide tests for all staff is exposed as pure words. Social care needs to be systematically prioritised in each and every testing system, in order for government to live up to its commitment.

‘We are calling for the prioritisation of social care employers through the Getting Tested Portal to ensure they have a strategic and targeted prioritization of all their employees – regardless of symptoms as previously promised by the government and for social care workers to be given priority status on the self-referral portal.’

The Department for Health and Social Care said: ‘We have set out a comprehensive action plan to support the adult social care sector in England throughout the coronavirus outbreak, including ramping up testing, overhauling the way PPE is being delivered to care homes and helping to minimise the spread of the virus to keep people safe.

‘As capacity has substantially increased, testing is being prioritised for both care home staff and residents with and without symptoms.

‘Up to 30,000 tests per day will be made available for staff and residents at care homes in England that look after the over 65s.’

Yesterday (Tuesday 5 May), Office for National Statistics data showed there were 2,794 deaths in care homes in England and Wales in the week to 24 April, up from the 2,050 the week before.

Data released in Scotland showed more than half of all registered deaths involving Covid-19 in week ended Sunday 3 May (week 18) occurred in care homes, 59% compared to 52%, the week previous. Although the percentage increased, the number of deaths in care homes had gone down in week 18, from 339 to 310.