Ministers under fire as Covid-19 testing drops back below 100,000 daily target

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Care home testing ‘shambolic’ and home kits sent without return envelopes

Ministers face ongoing criticism over coronavirus testing, as the number of daily tests dropped below 80,000, care home staff reported difficulties in getting checked and home kits were delivered without return envelopes.

Related: Is 100,000 tests a day an effective strategy against coronavirus?

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World news | The Guardian

Ministers face ongoing criticism over coronavirus testing, as the number of daily tests dropped below 80,000, care home staff reported difficulties in getting checked and home kits were delivered without return envelopes.

On Friday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that the government’s target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April had been achieved, with more than 122,000 tests provided on the last day of the month – though it emerged that a third had not been carried out.

Since then, the number of tests per day dropped by more than 40,000, with 76,496 delivered in the 24 hours up to 9am on Sunday.

NHS England’s national medical director, Prof Stephen Powis, said: “You will see that testing capacity has ramped up very quickly over the last week or so and we are now at a very high level of testing, over 100,000 – a little bit of a dip in the weekend, but we anticipate that that testing capacity will continue to increase.”

Earlier, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, admitted that more lives could have been saved if the UK had been able to test on a large scale at an earlier date.

In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, he was asked if there could have been fewer deaths and he replied: “Yes. If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I’m sure many things could be different.”

It comes as the Guardian learned that just 7% of the 31,000 tests delivered to care homes to test all residents and staff had been carried out so far.

Thousands of kits delivered to care homes last week were unused because of a lack of clarity about who can administer them, social services chiefs said.

Residential care homes, which are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, are not registered to carry out nursing tasks. Social services officials say they are unsure whether they are allowed to bend the rules, though the government says the tests can be administered easily by care home staff.

One social services director, who oversees hundreds of care homes in his area, said: “There’s a major flaw in this plan. Residential care staff are not registered to carry out this procedure. Yesterday not a single person was swabbed in any of our care homes. It’s another fiasco.”

Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:

  • a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly

NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.

If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Staying at home means you should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home

You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.

Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020

Previously testing was available to care home residents with Covid-19 symptoms but not to asymptomatic residents. This changed on 28 April as part of the increase in Covid-19 testing announced by Hancock. The testing of all care home residents and staff is an important part of trying to stem the spread of the virus across the sector.

MHA, a major chain that has lost more than 300 residents to Covid-19, described testing in care homes as “completely shambolic”.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “Since we announced the further expansion to all symptomatic and asymptomatic care home staff and residents on 28 April we have delivered almost 31,000 tests. The tests are easy to use, with care workers needing to carry out simple swabs.”

It is understood that about 2,300 tests have been carried out so far in care homes, a figure the government expects to increase rapidly. Care home workers uncomfortable with administering these tests are being encouraged to contact their local NHS trust for support.

The Care Quality Commission said it is not involved in mass care home testing.

Meanwhile, a UK-wide survey by the Royal College of Nursing of more than 22,000 health and care workers, conducted over the weekend before the government’s announcement of testing expansion, found 76% had not been offered a test. Of those, 44% said they did not know how to access testing.

The government also admitted that “a small number” of home coronavirus tests sent out did not have the right information to be processed.

Baschea Walsh was one of those who reported receiving a test without a return envelope. “First of all I tried to register the kit online and it would not recognise my date of birth so I then called them,” she said. “I also asked how to send it back without a return envelope. I was told to chuck it in the bin – I asked them if they could send me an envelope and they said no I would need to do a new test.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are urgently seeking to resolve this so anyone affected can either be provided with a new label or order a replacement kit online, which won’t be counted in the daily figures.”

A total of 1,206,405 coronavirus tests have been carried out in the UK since the beginning of April.

In the government’s daily briefing on Sunday, Michael Gove said that steps taken to extend testing would help get more people back to work. He said: “Thanks to the hard work of so many across the NHS, Public Health England, our pharmaceutical sector and our universities, we have tested over 200,000 key workers and their families, allowing those who don’t have the virus to go back to work and protecting those who do.

“We have now of course extended the criteria for testing beyond key workers to anyone over 65 displaying symptoms, and anyone who has to travel to get to work.”


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