Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly coronavirus tests from today, the government has announced.
Those working for CQC registered providers will receive weekly PCR tests to administer at home, which will help identify more asymptomatic cases and protect more vulnerable care users from the virus.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, (pictured) said: “Home care workers have been doing an incredible job throughout the pandemic, caring day in and day out and going the extra mile to keep people they care for safe from COVID.
“As our testing capacity continues to expand, I’m glad we’re able to take this next step and make regular testing available to homecare workers. Now, as well as having PPE, homecare workers will be able to take a weekly test to check they don’t have coronavirus.
“We now have the largest testing capacity in Europe, so we’re using this to protect those who are at greater risk if they catch COVID.”
All registered home care agencies will be contacted with details of how to apply for test kits for their carers this week. Home care agencies will be responsible for ordering and distributing tests to all workers for them to conduct at home on a weekly basis, testing on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This approach will maximise capacity available in laboratories, the government said.
Testing will be expanded to all other home care workers, including live-in carers and personal assistants, in a phased rollout.
A month’s worth of test kits will be delivered to care providers, who can distribute tests to their staff using the same channels used to distribute PPE.
Until now, routine testing of asymptomatic home care workers has not been available. This was largely supported by evidence from a prevalence survey, showing that transmission rates of the virus amongst home care workers was similar to the general population. This is unlike the much higher prevalence rates amongst staff working in care homes.
However, Colin Angel, policy director at United Kingdom Homecare Association, said there has been a sense that people who used home care services had received a lower priority from government than those using residential care.
Angel added: “It seems clear that a proportion of people infected with coronavirus do not develop symptoms themselves, but are able to pass it on to others, including the people they support. The availability of routine testing will be welcomed by many, particularly members of the public who have been concerned about the risk of transmission from careworkers visiting their home.
“This winter brings a combination of seasonal pressures which occur every year, compounded with staff absences, including self-isolation. An unintended consequence of asymptomatic testing, is the possibility of staff being required to self-isolate as a result of a false positive test result, stretching workforce capacity even further.”
Kathryn Smith, CEO of the Social Care Institute for Excellence Kathryn Smith said: “This is very welcome news. Throughout the pandemic we have been pointing out that social care isn’t just about care homes, vitally important though they are. This development will be really helpful to those in the care workforce who go into people’s homes. Regular testing will give them reassurance and confidence that they can do their jobs in a more secure manner. This will also provide relief to the people who access care at home – and to their relatives. This is a most welcome development.”