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Matt Hancock vows testing for all care home residents showing coronavirus symptoms amid fears death toll is surging

Matt Hancock vows testing for all care home residents showing coronavirus symptoms amid fears death toll is surging

The Department of Health will public a social care ‘action plan’ on Thursday

4 min read

All care home residents and staff displaying coronavirus symptoms are to be tested for the illness amid mounting fears it has already claimed thousands of lives in the sector.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “determined to ensure that everyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to have access to one”.

At the moment, barely 500 care home staff have been tested for the deadly illness.

Labour said it wanted to see the “details of how this latest commitment will be delivered”.

Currently the first five residents displaying symptoms in a care home are tested to confirm whether or not an institution has an outbreak.

But the Department for Health and Social Care - which is launching a coronavirus social care “action plan” on Thursday - said testing would be ramped up in the coming days to include all care home residents and staff who show symptoms.

Testing will also be provided to all potential care home residents as they are discharged from hospital, the department said.

Launching the plan, Mr Hancock said he was “deeply conscious that people in residential care are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus”. 

He added: “We are doing everything we can to keep workers, residents and their families safe, and I am determined to ensure that everyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to have access to one.
 
“We have already begun testing social care workers and will roll this out nationwide over the coming days. And as we continue to ramp up our testing programme, we will test all current care home residents with coronavirus symptoms and all new care home residents who are discharged from hospital into care.
 
“Testing is key in our battle against coronavirus, and as part of our plan to prevent the spread and save lives we will ensure that everyone in social care who needs a test can have a test.”
 
The Department of Health and Social Care meanwhile said every social care worker who needs a test “can now get one”, and promised that social care workers and members of their family with coronavirus symptoms would be “prioritised” as capacity expands.

Shadow Social Care minister Liz Kendall said: “Increased testing for care home residents and care staff is essential to tackling the emerging crisis in social care and something Labour has long been calling for. We look forward to seeing details of how this latest commitment will be delivered, with only 500 care staff having been tested to date.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “The Government has rightly said the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. This must also apply to social care, which needs a much greater priority and focus than it has had so far.

“Alongside this, Ministers must act to ensure all care home and home care staff get the PPE they need and publish daily figures on deaths outside hospitals, including in care homes, so we know the full scale of the challenge we face.”

'They didn't fix the roof on social care when the sun was shining and now it's too late' - Mike Padgham, Independent Care Group

The latest pledge from the Department of Health came as the Independent Care Group, which represents care homes, warned that the virus could already have claimed the lives of at least 4,000 residents.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that coronavirus killed 217 care home residents in England and Wales in the two weeks up to April 3. 

But Mike Padgham, of the Independent Care Group, said the care home death toll was likely to be about a third of the total deaths recorded in hospitals, which currently stand at 12,107.

He said: “These people are in a very vulnerable group, they may have underlying conditions and they're in close proximity so it's being spread quicker.

“We don't think the Government are doing enough and now they've been caught out. They didn't fix the roof on social care when the sun was shining and now it's too late.”

Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle on Tuesday said her organisation was working with the ONS to try and include care home deaths in the daily updates on the number of people who have lost their lives to the virus.

“In these very dispersed systems we just need to be absolutely clear that the cause of death that is attributed is correct,” she said at the daily Number 10 press conference.

“And that's what takes time on the death certificate to get right and we would like to have much more rapid data preferably on a daily basis and that’s what we’re working towards.”

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