Testing times: ARC England update from Lisa Lenton

HARC England Director Lisa Lentonello,

It’s been a week of many conversations about testing; between Government departments, ministers and within the Task and Finish group I am involved in.

In particular, this week saw the welcome announcement that testing for whole care homes has started, and a portal is available now for managers (or local authorities) to register their service. Home testing kits will be sent for residents and staff, whether showing symptoms or not, and the test can be carried out by clinicians or staff if they are comfortable and confident to do so.
Read Lisa Lenton’s full blog >

Coronavirus testingHowever, although we are hearing ministers proudly quoting numbers of tests carried out, we still hold significant concerns that the amount of testing going on each day in reality simply isn’t enough; systems aren’t working properly, logistics are poor and prioritisation of social care staff has been lost. Granted, the new portal is dedicated to Adult Social Care – but only for care homes and at this stage only for older people’s services or large homes that have more than 50 residents.

While I understand the urgency for this cohort of society’s most vulnerable to have access to testing, it is worth noting that 28% of residential homes are for people with a learning disability and/or autism. Yet testing for those homes – residents and staff – is not available through this portal at present. There are still other ways to obtain a test – those systems continue to run alongside this – but every time I speak to ARC members I hear about issues with testing systems.

The number of home kits to be dispatched to care homes isn’t going to be enough to enable timely testing either. In some local authority areas, based on testing capacity per day and number of homes, it could take 200 days for everyone to be tested – and that doesn’t include any re-testing which, frankly, is going to be needed.

The other issue is obtaining test results. We have heard anecdotally that results are taking a long time to come through, therefore limiting the benefit of the initial test. There are also concerns in some quarters regarding accuracy. For me, though, the next stage in thinking needs to be about how best to deal with the impact of the results. If, potentially, a number of asymptomatic staff test positive in an individual home and need to self isolate, then how will that service continue? What contingencies can be enacted? How will providers be supported?

I fear that there are some tough times ahead. As the prime minister presents his five tier plan and assures the country that we are heading past the peak, we know that for Adult Social Care the emergency will continue for a while yet.