Care home residents and staff to get regular Covid-19 tests

Staff and residents in care homes for people over 65 and those with dementia will receive regular coronavirus tests from Monday, the government has announced.

Staff will be tested for the virus weekly while residents will receive a test every 28 days. The new measures will be in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak or an increased risk of a surge in cases.

The strategy follows the latest advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and new evidence from a study indicating a higher prevalence of Covid-19 in care homes.

The Vivaldi 1 study, which surveyed almost 9,000 care home managers and analysed data from testing, identified the higher levels of Covid-19 among care staff, particularly among temporary staff who work in multiple settings. The study, published on Friday by the Office for National Statistics, suggests staff may be at increased risk of contracting the virus, which they may then pass on to others if they have no symptoms.

The government said that over the next four weeks, retesting will be rolled out to all care homes for over-65s and those with dementia which have registered to receive retesting. Repeat testing will be extended to include all care homes for working-age adults in August.

Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, said: “Our response to this global pandemic has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts, and we will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.

“This will not only keep residents and care workers safe, but it will give certainty and peace of mind to the families who may be worried about their loved ones, and give staff the confidence to do what they do best.”

It comes after Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health and social care secretary, last month called for routine testing of all staff in the NHS and social care sectors.

David Pearson, chair of the social care sector Covid-19 support taskforce, has written to care providers this week outlining the importance of reducing movement between care homes and making best use of the infection control fund. In May, the government launched a care-home support package, backed by the £600m fund, to minimise risks in care homes by limiting movement of staff.

Pearson said: “This new phase in our testing strategy is an important step in protecting the 1.5 million care home staff across the country and the residents they care for. We are prioritising those care homes for older residents and those with dementia, but will expand this even further by August.”

A study last month found that care home residents were more likely to die of Covid-19 in the UK than in any of the other major European countries, apart from Spain.

The proportion of residents dying in UK homes was a third higher than in Ireland and Italy, about double that in France and Sweden, and 13 times higher than Germany. The analysis of official statistics was carried out by academics at the London School of Economics.

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