Test crisis at
care home

Manager struggles to get swabs for staff

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An experienced care home manager has attacked the government for what she believes is a systematic, ongoing failure to develop a coronavirus testing system for care home staff and residents.  

Sharon Reed (pictured) of Weymouth’s Danmor Lodge private care home also feels Matt Hancock and Helen Whately, health and social care ministers, do not understand how care homes operate and have failed to defend those working in them.

Deeply frustrating

Danmor, which won the 2019 Dorset Echo care home award, provides accommodation for up to 25 residents. In 2016 its end of life care won it one of only 15 quality awards from the National Gold Standards Framework Centre. 

As a manager since 2013, Reed administers a staff of 40. She estimates around 60 per cent have contracted Covid-19, while the figure among residents, one of whom has died of the virus, is higher. 

“Some staff self-isolated once the crisis started because of family concerns,” said Reed. “Some with Covid-19 were absent for three weeks, others longer. Some returned too early and exhaustion forced them to take additional time off to recover. Everyone has given their all.

Testing staff for Covid-19 helps Reed know whether they are safe to work, thus helping prevent the virus spreading to patients. She has been left deeply frustrated at the government testing systems she has tried to access. 

“I am into the sixth system for staff,” she said. “The new DHSC online portal system does not seem to be any better than the previous five. I asked on 12 May for swabs to undertake staff and resident tests. I am still waiting.” 

She described how earlier test systems expected unwell staff to drive 100 miles to Bristol. Venues were later switched to Poole, then Weymouth, which was overwhelmed by demand. A mobile testing centre also collapsed within hours and a one set up by the local clinical commissioning group failed to last 24 hours. 

Reed said she had consistently sought to get swab tests for her residents, with mixed success, and wants all of them to be regularly tested until she can be sure no one at the care home has the virus.

Ring of steel

Earlier during the pandemic, she asked for a testing kit and received only five swabs. She sent back two, which both gave positive results, but was not allowed to use the remaining three because a second courier was not available. On another occasion, she said, she only received tests for residents when she threatened to go to the press.

“I must inform Public Health England when we are virus free. Regular testing will be required but is this part of any long-term plan by the government?” said Reed, who believes government ministers do not understand the sector she works in and remains angry that the government initially allowed people who had not been tested for coronavirus to be transferred into care homes. 

According to the Office for National Statistics there had been 8,312 Covid-19 recorded deaths – around a quarter of all deaths associated with the virus – in England and Wales care homes up to 1 May. The number rises to 12,526 when care home residents who died elsewhere – mainly in hospital – are included. 

In the week ending 1 May there were 6,409 deaths recorded in care homes more than the 6,397 deaths in hospitals in the same week.

“Matt Hancock and Helen Whately should have thrown a ring of steel round care homes and explained to the public our role,” said Reed. “They have done neither. 

“Consequently, the toll on care staff nationally, who are all trained, is relentless. It is dispiriting to see comments on Facebook and in letters columns that residents, many of whom have multiple medical problems, are being stopped from going to hospital for oxygen and being pressurised into completing do-not-resuscitate forms. In fact many complete these before entering a care home. 

“Doctors and district nurses support all our work, which should be explained to those who don’t know how we work.”

Frontline

In response to Reed’s comments a Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: it had built the biggest diagnostic testing design industry in British history.

“Supporting the social care sector has been a priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic and we recently announced a further £600 million for care homes to tackle the spread of Covid-19,” added the spokesperson. 

“We are testing all care workers and residents, regardless of symptoms or not, and, since the start of the outbreak, nearly 125,000 workers in care settings and over 118,000 care home residents have been tested.”

The spokesperson highlighted the 11 May establishment of an online portal for care homes to register for tests, and Whately’s comments on 15 April when the social care minister said: “Care workers are on the frontline going into work day in day out. It includes looking after people with Covid-19 and I am hugely grateful.” 

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