BGS statement on care home testing for COVID-19

06 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect in care homes, where there have been 45.9% more deaths in the period from 28 December 2019 to 12 June 2020 than in the same period last year. Nearly 20,000 care home residents have died during the pandemic, and care home staff have put their own lives at risk going to work every day to care for some of society’s most vulnerable people.

At the beginning of the pandemic, staff working in care homes were asked to take patients from hospital who had not been tested for COVID-19, which had the effect of bringing infection into many care homes. Covid testing and supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) were inadequate. When the Government spoke of the ‘ring of steel’ that had supposedly been thrown around the sector and the Prime Minister commented that care homes were in part to blame for the impact of the pandemic on the sector, care home staff were justifiably angry at the lack of support.

Public outrage and some high-profile reporting contributed to belated but welcome action on the part of the Government at the beginning of July, when it committed to introducing regular tests for care home staff and residents. Care home managers, staff and families of residents finally felt that they were being listened to and that they would have access to the testing that they so desperately needed.

It is therefore something of an understatement to say that they, and we, were immensely disappointed by the news on Friday 31 July stating that the roll-out of regular testing for all care home staff and residents has been delayed and will not be fully achieved until 7 September at the earliest. The letter sent to Directors of Public Health by Prof Jane Cummings, Testing Director for Adult Social Care, cited some difficulties with a specific type of test as well as higher than expected demand and some unexpected delays as reasons why the government’s commitment will not be met. Care homes are being prioritised according to local authority areas where there is the most need, suggesting that some care homes may have an even longer wait.

As the country works hard to avoid a second wave of the virus, regular testing for this at-risk group is more important than ever. Once again, care homes and their residents and staff have been let down by the Government.

Professor Tahir Masud, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said:

Care homes have been hard hit by this pandemic, and for them to be let down again is unacceptable. It is vital that everyone across the NHS and social care is able to play their part in avoiding a second wave of this virus. Testing in care homes is a crucial part of controlling infection and avoiding further outbreaks. We urge the Government to protect care home staff and the vulnerable residents that they care for by making access to testing for this group a top priority.”