The Minister of Care has been accused of prioritising care home visitors over professional home care staff when it comes to testing people for coronavirus.
Helen Whatley (pictured) recently announced that a care home visitor scheme allowing family members to regularly visit their loved ones would be piloted in England.
Under the scheme, a designated relative or friend would be required to undergo weekly testing and wear PPE. However, exact details are yet to be finalised.
The Minister of Care told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee earlier this month: “I am planning to launch a pilot shortly. I can’t give you a date but I can say we are moving forward with it.
“Visiting is incredibly important for residents and their families in care homes. I really want us to enable visiting but it has to be safe.”
Reacting to the news, Eloise Wakeford, founder and owner of Berkshire-based County Carers, said she was “shocked” that care home visitors could be given weekly tests to allow safe visiting, when domiciliary care staff are still unable to access regular testing.
“We have a team of dedicated professionals and experienced at home carers and we’re struggling to get sent testing kits for anyone in the team, let alone be prioritised for testing or offered weekly testing to ensure the safe provision of care for vulnerable clients in their own homes,” she said.
“From our point of view, if one of our carers becomes unwell with COVID it not only puts them out of action, but it also affects all of the people they care for as well as their families at home. We’re now hearing news that families visiting care homes are being prioritised over not only our professional team but also the people we care for.”
Home care workers and the organisations employing them continue to demand the same access to regular COVID-19 testing as those working in residential care.
Ministers had promised weekly testing in care homes in the summer, but it began comprehensively only in September.
Meanwhile, home care workers, along with supported living and extra care housing staff, are only eligible for a free test if they have symptoms.
Dr Jane Townson, CEO of United Kingdom Home Care Association, expressed her frustration over this issue when giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee earlier this month.
She said: “Home care was never on the priority list and the reason given for that was this small Public Health England, which, whilst it may be true that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the home care workforce is similar to that in the general population, ignores the fact that home care providers are supporting people on the high risk list by definition.
“Also, we carers are living 24/7 with clients and those people want to be sure that the people coming in [to their homes] aren’t infected. So we want asymptomatic testing.”
Dr Townson continued: “In the very beginning, for people with symptoms, finding tests wasn’t too difficult, but now it’s become really difficult because more and more people have been promised tests.
“We still haven’t made any progress on asymptomatic testing for the live-in care workers and we would argue that in areas of local lockdown, where transmission rates are higher, home care workers ought to be on the routine testing list.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of protecting those who receive care in their own homes, as well as those who provide home care, and we are doing everything that we can to support them as part of our support for the wider sector.
“We are protecting care workers and reducing the spread of infection by extending the Infection Control Fund to home care providers, and through providing £4.6 billion to local authorities to address COVID-19 pressures, including supporting domiciliary care.
“Our approach to testing health and care workers is guided by the latest scientific advice, which finds that regular testing of people without symptoms is most effective among populations where prevalence is higher, or where individuals are more at risk from coronavirus, for example, in care homes.”