'Like working with both hands behind your back': Care home boss highlights need for testing

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

Running a care home through the coronavirus crisis without sufficient testing is like "trying to do your job with both hands behind your back", the boss of a provider has told ITV News.

Comments from Optima Care chief executive Eddie Coombes follows a commitment from the government that all care home residents and social care staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested for the virus as capacity increases.

One care home worker told ITV News he'd rather be back serving in Iraq than "dealing with this right now".

Simon Walls from Saint Cecilia's Nursing Home said working through the current crisis is "horrific for staff".

The government made its pledge for more testing after it was revealed "about 1,000" residents had died after outbreaks at at least 2,000 care homes - at one facility there have been at least 13 fatalities.

Matt Hancock said he said he was “determined” to ensure that everyone needing a test should have access to one, with testing remaining a “key” part of the Government’s coronavirus plan.

But Mr Coombes, who looks after 14 care homes, said, as with many government pledges, there's "a lot of lag in time before they get to the front end".

He said testing is "critical" at his facilities for staff to have the confidence to work.

"To be able to manage any form of infection control you need to know who and what your'e dealing with to put correct zoning and procedures in place.

"Without testing, it's pretty much trying to do your job with both hands behind your back."

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

As well as current residents and staff who need it, Mr Hancock said testing will also be provided to all residents before they are discharged from hospital.

Mr Hancock said: “I am deeply conscious that people in residential care are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus.

"We are doing everything we can to keep workers, residents and their families safe.

“We have already begun testing social care workers and will roll this out nationwide over the coming days.

"And as we continue to ramp up our testing programme, we will test all current care home residents with coronavirus symptoms and all new care home residents who are discharged from hospital into care.”

But the government was criticised earlier for failing to meet its testing target of 25,000 per day by mid-April.

In the 24 hours up to 9am on Tuesday, just 14,982 tests were carried out - despite there being capacity for 19,000 - Boris Johnson's spokesperson said.

He claimed "testing capacity is increasing all of the time" and that the 100,000-tests-a-day target by the end of the month remained in place.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock Credit: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street

The announcement of the rollout follows intense criticism of the Government’s treatment of the social care sector, with claims it has been forgotten as the disease spread.

Labour’s shadow minister for social care. Liz Kendall 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 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.

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 is set to give further details of the measures when the Government’s Covid-19 social care action plan is outlined this week.

The Government has already pledged to perform 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.

On Tuesday, figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that Covid-19 was mentioned on 3,475 death certificates in the week to April 3, including hospital, care home and community deaths.

But care home providers warned they are seeing a higher number of cases and deaths than are officially reported, in part due to a time lag with the ONS figures.

MHA, a charitable operator, said there had now been 210 deaths across 131 of its homes, with outbreaks in about half of its homes.

And around two thirds of care homes run by Britain’s largest care home operator HC-One have seen cases of Covid-19.

Mr Coombes also told of his difficulty in procuring PPE for his staff from private providers.

"The general themes that are coming across are just the pure lack of PPE equipment, there's a lot of individual providers having to resort to local and very innovative ways to self-fabricate or acquire through various different sources

"It's a very time consuming process especially when we're trying to maintain a level of confidence and safety for the staff we're asking to come to work on a daily basis and expose themselves to risk."