Matt Hancock tells Peston: Everyone in social care system who needs a coronavirus test can get one 'immediately'

Anyone who needs a coronavirus test in the social care system will be able to have one "immediately", Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV's Peston.

It was announced on Wednesday that testing would be expanded to symptomatic care home residents and those discharged from hospitals to homes, as well as all staff who need a test.

Asked by ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston when everybody in care homes who needs a coronavirus test would get one, Mr Hancock replied: "Immediately… for everybody in the social care system who needs a test to be able to get one."

Mr Hancock's comments come following the announcement that all care home residents and social care staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested for the virus as capacity increases, the government has pledged.

Prior to the announcement, only the first five symptomatic residents in a care home setting are tested to provide confirmation of whether there is an outbreak.

Labour’s shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall has said that “only 500 care staff having been tested to date”, and social care needs “a much greater priority and focus than it has had so far”.

Increases in the laboratory capacity have opened up the chance for the Government to expand testing to include all care home residents who develop symptoms, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Testing is vital to calculating accurate infection and survival rates.

All of the examinations will be PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which search for the presence of Covid-19 in a sample.

A coronavirus test kit. Credit: PA

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is coordinating testing for the care sector, aims to have contacted 30,000 care providers by the end of the week.

It has already offered 6,000 care facilities the opportunity to test their staff.

Care providers will then identify workers eligible for testing and refer them to their local testing centre.

Mr Hancock was also questioned about why face masks have not been made mandatory in the UK, when there is some evidence which suggests infection rates are lower in countries where people wear them.

He said World Health Organisation (WHO) advice was being followed by the government.

The WHO has said it is looking into whether people should wear masks.

Mr Hancock added: "It's really important to get this right because masks are globally in short supply and you've got to make sure you use them in the right settings, but also if they don't help, then it doesn't improve the national effort to tackle this virus.

"There is a review underway as you mentioned, in fact I spoke to Patrick Vallance [the UK's chief scientific advisor] about it today, and it will look into where we do have these recommendations, and when it is ready, we'll come forward with any changes, if there are any."

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

  • Watch Peston on ITV at 10.53pm on Wednesday, April 15