Scores of care home staff and residents are being put at risk because they cannot obtain Covid testing kits and those that are completed are not being collected.
A backlog in the ordering system, which comes under the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Care, means some homes are unable to comply with government protocols announced in July for testing residents monthly and staff weekly.
One of the sites hit by the backlog is Newlyn Residential Home in Ramsgate which currently has NO testing kits.
Manager Toni Selfridge says despite ordering new kits there has been no email confirmation, no delivery and when she has called the ordering centre she has been told nothing can be done because it is not possible to override her original request.
Toni said: “ All the care homes are supposed to be testing residents every 28 days and staff every week. I reordered tests and so have other care home managers and we have had no response. I haven’t even had an email to say they were being sent. This would normally happen the day after I’ve ordered them. It has now been four weeks since I made our order.
“Currently we do not have any tests at all. The last time everyone was tested was August 10 and for staff, we did 10 tests on August 17.
“We are told there is a backlog but we were forgotten in the first place and now we have been left to it again without explanation. It leaves staff and residents at risk.
“We are back to the beginning again. We can’t tell if staff are infected if they are not symptomatic, we can’t be compliant with testing staff every week and if a member of staff has a sore throat we now have to send them home. This means we might end up losing staff and have to go through an agency which is expensive for our home owner Lynda Martin and means no continuity for residents.”
An issue is now also created when the home takes in a new resident. Normally they would be tested and isolate until the result was returned – positive resulting in continued isolation and a home lockdown or negative meaning a return to routine – but this test cannot be carried out until a new delivery arrives.
Toni said: “When new people come we now have to think about whether we can accept them if we can’t test them.
“We are trying to safeguard people but how can we without the tests? Something has got to be done. When Covid began the care homes were just left. Then there was an outcry but now we are being left in limbo again.”
Newlyn, which currently has eight residents and 17 staff, is not alone. There is at least one other, Thanet care home provider struggling to get tests delivered.
Toni said: “It is so frustrating. We have been so careful. Staff wear civvies into work and then change at the door. We have been doing their temperatures and the tests, that are awful, every week. And now nothing.”
Newlyn has not had any positive covid cases for staff or residents to date.
Government testing strategy
In July the government announced that care home staff would be tested for coronavirus weekly, while residents would receive a test every 28 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus in social care. This was in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak, or at increased risk of an outbreak.
The new testing strategy followed advice from SAGE and evidence from a Vivaldi 1 study indicating a higher prevalence in care homes, and therefore a case for frequent testing in care homes and their staff.
The study suggested care home staff may be at increased risk of contracting the virus, which they may then pass on to others if they have no symptoms.
During July retesting was rolled out to all care homes for over 65s and those with dementia who have registered to receive retesting. Repeat testing was extended this month to include all care homes for working age adults.
At the time of the announcement Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: “It is our priority to protect care residents and staff and testing is a crucial part of that.”
Kent County Council is aware of the current test delivery backlog and says the issue has been escalated
A Kent County Council spokesperson said: “KCC is aware of this issue and jointly with CCG colleagues is in contact with care homes weekly and support and advice is provided via digital contact groups for registered care home managers in Thanet.
“The issue has been escalated via Public Health and CCG colleagues and the council has liaised with the National Testing Lead who advised that the pressure on the supply of testing kits is being addressed is expected to end shortly.
“New initiatives such as weekend testing, bulk registration of tests and 119 managing care home test administration is expected to improve the position.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been asked for comment.
National and local situation
To date (August 27) there have been 330,368 positive covid tests across the UK. There are currently 767 covid patients in hospital and 64 of those are in ventilator beds. There have been 41,477 deaths attributed to Covid in the UK.
In Kent and Medway there have been 9,593 positive covid cases. There are very few patients in the area’s hospitals either confirmed as having Coronavirus. On 20 August there were just 22 confirmed Covid-19 positive patients out of 2,864 beds across all Kent and Medway acute hospitals.
In Thanet there have been 929 confirmed covid positive cases, with one of those being registered this week. There have been 161 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began up to August 14 but registered to August 22. None were in August.
However, government data pages acknowledge that the actual cause of death may not be COVID-19 in all cases despite being registered as such.