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MILLIONS of care home residents and staff have been abandoned to their fate after the government dumped its pledge to carry out comprehensive testing for coronavirus over the summer.
Labour accused the government of “negligence” today after the decision to drop the plan was revealed in a leaked memo from a civil servant to local councils.
General union GMB has called for a public inquiry for the government ditching the testing programme, which was due to be launched in care homes on July 6.
Coronavirus deaths among residents make up one-third of the total of more than 46,000 deaths from the virus in Britain.
Covid-19 is thought to have spread to care homes through the transfer of elderly, infected patients from hospitals to make more beds available.
The government assured the public that care homes had been “ring-fenced” against the virus.
As the number of care home deaths with the virus then rose — including of care workers — the government said it would introduce testing in care homes for all residents and staff.
On July 3 Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.
“This will not only keep residents and care workers safe, but it will give certainty and peace of mind to the families who may be worried about their loved ones, and give staff the confidence to do what they do best.”
But in a leaked memorandum sent to local authority chief executives on Friday evening last week Professor Jane Cummings, the government’s adult social care testing director, said “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being ditched due to “unexpected delays.”
Around 3.5 million mainly elderly people live in care homes in Britain.
The homes are mostly privately run after local authorities were forced by the government to seek bids for contracts from the profit-motivated private sector.
Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With infections rising, it’s frankly negligent that ministers have failed to deliver on their promise to regularly test care home residents and staff.
“Ministers have been too slow to act and explain their strategy throughout this pandemic. Test and Trace is costing £10 billion but is nowhere near the ‘world beating’ system we were promised.
“It’s critical that measures are now put in place to control the virus, including rapidly improving testing and locally led contact-tracing teams.”
The government failed to protect care home residents and staff early on in this pandemic, Mr Ashworth added, warning that it must not make the same mistake again.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said: “The social care workforce has been failed at all stages during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The discharge of elderly people into care homes from hospitals without being tested; initially being excluded from access to personal protective equipment (PPE); workers excluded from testing; denied access to full and normal pay for adhering to government isolation and shielding advice — the list goes on.”
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