Staff and residents in care homes in England will be regularly tested for coronavirus from next week, the government has said.
Care home workers will be tested weekly, while residents will receive a test every 28 days, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It has also promised intensive testing in any care home facing a coronavirus outbreak or an increased risk of a flare-up.
The programme will be rolled out from Monday to all care homes for people aged over 65, and those with dementia, which have registered to receive re-testing over the next four weeks.
It will then be expanded to the entire care home sector from August.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government’s response to the pandemic “has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts”.
“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,” he added.
The government has faced criticism for failing to protect care homes from coronavirus.
There have been more than 14,600 deaths linked to COVID-19 in care homes across England and Wales registered up to 19 June, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data.
A National Audit Office report in June claimed that around 25,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes in England at the height of the pandemic without all being tested for COVID-19.
Research published last month revealed a third of care home residents had not been tested for COVID-19, despite government promises that all residents and staff would be tested by “early June”.
The research from The Data Analysis Bureau suggested that while testing had risen over that month, many residents were still missing out.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock is facing legal action from the daughter of an 88-year-old man who died of suspected COVID-19 in a care home.
Dr Cathy Gardner is demanding the health secretary retract his claim that he placed a “protective ring” around care homes following the death of her father Michael Gibson.
The new testing strategy follows the latest advice from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and new evidence indicating a higher prevalence in care homes, the DHSC said.
The Vivaldi 1 study, which surveyed almost 9,000 care home managers and analysed data from care home tests, identified higher levels of the virus among care workers – particularly among temporary staff working in multiple care settings.
The study suggested that care home staff may be at increased risk of contracting the virus which they could then pass on to others if they have no symptoms, the DHSC said.
The new repeat testing programme was welcomed by care sector leaders who said it was “essential” to support care homes managing the spread of infection.
Vic Rayner, executive director of National Care forum, added: “Access to repeat and regular testing is absolutely central to support care homes in managing the spread of infection within care homes.
“Testing has proved to be a vital tool in the box for providers and the continued expansion of the testing regime is essential.”
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