Weekly testing in care homes ‘premature’, says Government expert

It is “premature” to introduce weekly testing of all care home residents and staff, the expert leading the Government’s coronavirus testing said.

Professor John Newton, from Public Health England, said it was too soon to decide whether to test every member of staff every week.

But Methodist Homes (MHA) said weekly testing of all residents and staff could help ease the virus spread in care homes by ensuring residents are not exposed to asymptomatic carriers.

The care provider took part in a Government pilot of whole-home testing during the first two weeks of May which saw 1,418 tests on staff and 1,255 tests on residents carried out.

Overall, a total of 10.5% of staff and 6.1% of residents who were tested were found to have Covid-19.

And 2.2% of staff and 4.4% of residents tested did not show Covid-19 symptoms but tested positive for the virus.

In each of the 28 homes in the pilot there was at least one asymptomatic staff member or resident who tested positive, MHA said.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Chief executive Sam Monaghan said: “For many weeks now we have been calling for the routine, regular testing of all care home residents and staff regardless of symptoms and have been consistently knocked back by the Government.

“We now have the firm evidence to back up the need for this. Our results from the whole home testing pilot shows that in each of our settings there was at least one person who tested positive for Covid-19 who was asymptomatic.”

Prof Newton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a very dynamic infection, the numbers are in fact falling. So before you decide whether you need to test every member of staff every week, we need to understand how the infection has spread already.”

He added: “We need to know how to protect people best, how to support care homes, and that information is still coming in and I think it would be premature to decide exactly what is required now.”

Mr Monaghan said the Government must not “squander” the chance to demonstrate it is not neglecting the social care sector during the pandemic.

He said: “We know the effect of this can be devastating given how quickly the virus can spread in a care home.

“For the head of the UK Government’s Covid-19 testing programme to say any decisions would be ‘premature’ and that their policy remains that repeat testing can only happen upon the presentation of symptoms or in a ‘targeted’ way, instead of routinely, is outrageous in the face of the evidence that is now available.

“One single asymptomatic staff member or resident through no fault of their own can cost lives. It is that simple.

“The Government must not squander this opportunity to finally demonstrate to our care workers, our residents living in care homes and to their families that it is not neglecting the social care sector during this crisis.”

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