Is full testing of staff and residents being offered to Suffolk care homes?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 29 May 2020
Testing of all care home staff and residents in Suffolk if one person gets coronavirus has been in place for more than two weeks, according to council care bosses.
Suffolk County Council’s adult social care team said that a system had been in place locally since the end of April and start of May where all staff and residents in a care home would be offered testing, if one person displayed symptoms and their test came back positive.
From the middle of May, the national hub had been established to bolster that testing availability in a bid to help understand the spread of the disease and help prevent deaths.
It came as latest data suggested 152 people had died in Suffolk care homes after contracting Covid-19.
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Councillor Beccy Hopfensperger, Conservative cabinet member for adult care, said: “It is now the case that if a care setting advises us that they have a symptomatic resident then all staff and residents will be offered testing.
“In addition, a national hub has been established and if the care home is CQC registered then they can request swabs to be sent to them to test all residents and staff.
“They do not need to have anyone with symptoms to do this. The swabs are then collected by courier and results notified to the care home.
“While there is some concern that swabs will not be taken correctly, as it relies on the local care staff to do them and they have not necessarily been trained specifically in this task, the county council and health partners are available to provide guidance and advice in regards to infection control and testing.”
According to the authority, it has carried out more than 3,500 separate tests since April 21.
The council first began receiving testing and swab kits from the middle of April, which were initially only for those who displayed symptoms, not the rest of those in a care home.
However, there had been some delays in receiving the results which needed to be ironed out.
According to the council, results were initially returned to Public Health England, which caused a blockage in the system, before it was changed so that results went back to the local authorities.
It is understood there had also been capacity issues in some of the labs, meaning more labs had to be found to process the completed tests.
As of the middle of May, that issue had been ironed out, according to the council.
David Finch, chairman of the Suffolk Association for Independent Care Providers, said: “Testing is very much the key, and this will be the case even more so with the antibody test.
“We are seeing people testing positive with no symptoms so the only way you can get to the bottom of it is with more testing.”
However, there had been some confusion over whether that was being offered to homes if one person was merely symptomatic, or whether they had to test positive first before all others could be tested.
MORE: Care home deaths increase by 600% in one week from Covid-19
Helen Armitage, Labour spokeswoman for health and adult care at Suffolk County Council, said: “I understand this is an unprecedented challenge that the council is facing, but Covid-19-related deaths in care homes remain much higher in Suffolk than in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with little explanation.
“Suffolk County Council is offering testing in care homes, but there is some confusion about what the current strategy is; it is clear that we need a fully formed and coherent plan after being too slow to respond to this growing crisis.
“That is why I am urging the council to adopt a robust testing response where all staff and residents in a care home are tested as soon as one person displays symptoms. This is crucial as we know that large numbers of people with Covid-19 have not displayed any symptoms so may go untraced and inadvertently spread the virus.
“We must then look to rapidly move to a whole care home testing system which regularly tests staff and residents, regardless of whether symptoms are being displayed. Only then can we start properly shielding our care homes.
“Essex County Council responded to rising care home figures by establishing whole-home testing – they are testing widely, intervening immediately and containing outbreaks at the earliest opportunity. We must look to do the same here in Suffolk to avoid even more lives being lost.”
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