New data suggests Government ‘considerably short’ on testing target for care home residents

The Government is considerably short of its self-imposed target to test every care home patient for coronavirus by “early June”, with latest data suggesting fewer than one-in-four has received a test since the pandemic started.

Just 5% of care home residents were tested in the last week, down from 6% in the previous seven-day period, according to a study involving anonymised data.

Figures from The Data Analysis Bureau (T-DAB) and Person Centred Software (PCS) – representing a sample size of 32,000 care receivers from 1,200 care homes across England, Wales and Scotland – suggested just 23% of care home residents have received a test at some point since it became available.

The analysis said 38% of care homes have had no residents tested since the pandemic started.

The data also suggested fewer than one in ten (9%) residents have been tested since May 15, when Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced his pledge for universal care home testing.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing at the time, he said: “We will test every resident and every member of staff in our elderly care homes in England between now and early June.”

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “(These are) very disappointing figures regarding the number of residents and staff tested for corona.

“Once again a mismatch in announcement from Government and delivery on the ground.

“The sector doesn’t just need testing, but rolling testing in order that residents and staff can be checked frequently and routinely to guard against this pandemic.”

Last week Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing supremo, described as “premature” calls to introduce weekly testing of all care home residents and staff.

Simon Briscoe, T-DAB director, said of its latest care home testing analysis: “It is worrying that we have no evidence of an increase in the rate of testing of care home residents in the last week as we approach the target set by the Government for every care receiver to be tested.”

Simon Papworth, co-founder and director of PCS – one of the leading suppliers of near real-time management information systems to the care home sector – said: “Our anonymised data covers thousands of care providers, including private and not-for-profit, from single home providers to large groups.

“This up-to-date insight of Covid-19 testing provides a close representation of the current situation in care homes across the country, providing a more representative picture than any individual adult social care provider could provide.”

The data relates to the period from March 18 to May 26.

Latest figures from the Department for Health said 37,460 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Tuesday, up by 412 from 37,048 the day before.

The Government’s approach to testing has been criticised in recent weeks, with the decision to abandon community testing and tracing in mid-March – focusing instead on hospitals – being described as “one of the most consequential made during this crisis” by Greg Clark, chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Mr Hancock also came under criticism after he announced on April 2 that he wanted to reach 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of the month – a figure reached for the first time on April 30, amid accusations the figures were inflated because it included the number of tests which had been sent out but not completed.

The target has been hit sporadically since, and data has been frequently unavailable due to “technical difficulties”.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group representing care providers in York and North Yorkshire, said testing “remains patchy, despite Government assurances”.

He said: “If correct, these figures are shocking and represent a betrayal of older and vulnerable people who are innocently caught up on the front line in the battle against Covid-19.

“Care providers have been saying since the earliest days of the pandemic that we have to get care and nursing home residents a proper Covid-19 testing regime in place if we are going to get on top of this virus.

“Here we are many weeks in and still struggling to get even a significant number of people tested.”

A spokesman for Barchester Healthcare, which has more than 200 facilities across the UK, said: “Barchester are pleased to confirm that, having been at the forefront of testing in care homes, 70% of all of our homes have now received whole home testing kits and are well under way with the programme.

“This is a huge step forward and will go a long way to helping us protect our residents and staff going forward.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We have the capacity to deliver up to 30,000 tests a day for whole care-home testing, and are currently prioritising care homes and areas with greatest need.

“We are testing all care workers and residents, whether they have symptoms or not , and since the start of the pandemic nearly 125,000 workers in care settings and over 118,000 care home residents have been tested through DHSC and PHE testing routes. We have now launched the online portal to make booking tests for staff and residents even easier.”

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