Care workers in the east of England looking after sick and elderly still not getting regular Covid tests

Care home staff in the east of England are still not receiving weekly Covid tests despite government promises, according to a survey published today by UNISON.

One in ten (10%) employees in residential care, who look after people aged over 65 and those with dementia, say they’ve not had regular swab checks.

This fails to fulfil a government pledge that these staff would be tested every seven days for the virus.

Even those receiving regular checks are facing delays getting the results, which is in breach of official guidelines, says UNISON.

Almost one in ten (7%) waited more than 72 hours to learn if they were infected or not. Some even experienced hold-ups of more than a week – or did not get results back at all.

Most said this did not affect their work, but one in ten (10%) of those who had to wait 72 hours had to take time off unpaid or were put on to statutory sick pay because of the long wait for results.

Delays and lack of access to testing for care employees could be putting both them and residents at increased risk of infection, says UNISON.

The results are based on a survey of nearly 500 care staff in the east of England, most of whom (49%) work in residential care. Others work in supported living (20%), homecare (9%), or as personal assistants helping individuals manage their daily lives (1%).

UNISON is calling on the government to set up a reliable monitoring system to ensure eligible staff are getting tested each week. Care home owners refusing to deliver proper Covid checks should be prosecuted, says UNISON.

Other  survey findings include a third (36%) of care staff – among them, workers visiting people in their own homes – said they had been unable to get a test within the previous four weeks.

Respondents said this was because no tests were available or were only available at drive through facilities. Some discovered on arrival at their appointment that tests had run out.

Lessons must be learned from ongoing issues with the testing process to ensure the vaccination rollout runs smoothly and all eligible care workers are immunised, says UNISON.

Commenting on the findings, UNISON Eastern social care lead Caroline Hennessy said: “Regular testing is essential to protect care staff and those they look after.

“It’s a major concern they’re still being let down. A repeat of what happened during the first wave must be avoided at all costs.

“Delays and lack of access to testing is putting workers, their families, and the people who depend on them at risk. Employers can’t afford to have staff off work – and workers can’t afford the hit financially.

“The government must get a grip on testing, honour its promises and ensure care staff have proper access to checks. Care staff will be hoping that the rollout of the vaccine happens much more smoothly.”