The leader of Enfield Council has renewed her appeal to the government to “step up the scale, speed and scope of its activity to protect those living and working in care homes”, saying that half the care homes in the borough have “declared an outbreak” of the virus in their premises and that “120 confirmed of suspected Covid-19 deaths” have been recorded in them.
In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, Nesil Caliskan says “there needs to be an immediate expansion of the testing programme, beyond what the government has announced over the last few days,” arguing that what she calls the current “light touch testing regime” is “not good enough”.
The government has promised that all care home residents and staff with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested after outbreaks were reported at more than 2,000 home across the country. Previously, tests were restricted to the first five residents in a home to show symptoms in order to establish if an outbreak had occurred.
However, Caliskan, who first wrote to Hancock about the care homes issue on 16 April, says the new measures are neither extensive enough nor being provided with sufficient speed to prevent the number of infections from growing rapidly and many “unnecessary deaths” occuring among care home residents and workers.
She also reports that care homes in Enfield are “concerned that they are not receiving clear support and direction” from either the government or from its agency Public Health England about getting the help and advice they need, and that care homes are unsure which NHS body is responsible for testing after initial outbreaks have been identified.
In her letter, which is co-signed by Alev Cazimoglu, Enfield’s Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Caliskan says there should be “a comprehensive and regular” care home testing programme, to enable “infection control” rather than simply monitoring people for the virus. She says there is concern that test results won’t be shared quickly enough, meaning staff cannot implement the most appropriate changes within homes to interrupt further spread of the virus.
It has long been a concern of care homes that although residents returning to them from hospitals are tested for the virus, the results might not been known until after they have been discharged, meaning they could be carrying the coronavirus for two or three days without staff knowing.
Caliskan asks that “mobile testing units” able to visit care homes are be quickly organised, pointing out that the one drive-through centre in Enfield is at the eastern edge of the borough, making it hard to get to for many care workers and of no use to those who don’t own cars. Additionally, she requests that testing kits are sent to all care homes “regularly and systematically” as part of “a clear programme’ for regular, repeat testing.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics, which records all deaths across the country, show that nine per cent of Covid-19 related deaths in Greater London as of 10 April were in care homes. On London understands that in Croydon, which contains over 140 care homes, the council has been informed of at least 70 Covid-19 related deaths.
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