Labour MPs criticise government for abandoning care home testing pledge

Assistant manager Claire Welford administers a coronavirus swab test on resident Harry Hall, 94, at the Eothen Homes care home in Whitley Bay, Tyneside, where all staff and residents are being tested for coronavirus.
A care home resident being tested for coronavirus. (PA)

Labour MPs have criticised the government for abandoning its pledge to roll out regular coronavirus testing within care homes over the summer.

Tests for residents and staff was meant to have started on July 6 but will now be pushed back until September 7 for older people and those with dementia - according to The Sunday Times.

The delays were revealed in a leaked memo published in the newspaper written by Professor Jane Cummings, the government's adult social care testing director.

Prof Cummings wrote to local authority leaders to inform them that "previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes" were being altered because of "unexpected delays".

Care workers Jane Ward (left) and Cath Roe on their rounds at Ashwood Court residential care home in Lowton, Warrington, as it reopens to visitors for the first time since lockdown began in March.
Cases spread rapidly through care homes at the beginning of the pandemic. (PA)

Several Labour MPs criticised the move on social media after it was revealed, with some calling the situation “a total shambles”.

“Weekly testing of care home residents & staff is critical to saving lives,” Leicester West MP Liz Kendall tweeted on Sunday.

“Yet this won’t now reach all homes for over 65s until Sept 7 & homes for under 65s won’t even be able to order tests until Aug 31.

“A total shambles, ministers must get a grip.”

While shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “So on day govt ‘paused’ shielding for vulnerable people & day after PM halted easings; No 10 now briefing shielding for over 50s could be introduced, ministers failing on pledge to test care home residents & staff.

“With infections rising, people deserve better than this.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) denied hat it had abandoned its pledge to regularly test care home residents.

But a department spokeswoman confirmed there were issues with "asymptomatic re-testing".

The problems relate to a combination of factors, including a restraint on the ability to build testing kits, already announced issues with Randox swab kits, overall lab capacity, and greater than anticipated return rate of care home test kits.

The DHSC spokeswoman said: "It is completely wrong to suggest care homes were deliberately deprived of testing resources and any care home resident or member of staff with symptoms can immediately access a free test.

"We continue to issue at least 50,000 tests a day to care homes across the country and prioritise tests for higher-risk outbreak areas.

"A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity."

DHSC said it would not comment on leaked documents when asked about Prof Cummings' memo.

The Tory administration has come in for criticism for failing to do more to prevent Covid-19 infections from reaching care homes, where some of the country's most vulnerable population reside, during the initial spring peak.

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