A new COVID-19 antibody testing programme launches this week as the government faces further criticism of its handling of the care home crisis.
All NHS and care staff in England are being offered an antibody test with patients and care residents also eligible at their clinician’s request.
The government said highly accurate laboratory based antibody tests will be used to tell whether someone has already had the virus, to provide accurate data about the antibodies they have developed in response.
The information will help clinicians and scientists to better understand the prevalence of the virus in different regions across the country and will inform a Public Health England (PHE) study called SIREN which is seeking to find whether antibodies indicate immunity to COVID-19.
The launch of the study came as the BBC revealed 30 out of 102 care providers contacted said none of their staff had been tested, down from 75 who said so in April.
Sam, CEO of MHA, has, meanwhile, has voiced his outrage after the head of the government’s testing programme said that any decision on repeat testing of care homes would be “premature”.
Findings from a two-week, whole home testing programme carried out by the not for profit operator carried out this month revealed that at least one person who tested positive in each of its settings was asymptomatic.
Sam said: “For the head of the UK government’s COVID-19 testing programme to say any decisions would be ‘premature’ and that their policy remains that repeat testing can only happen upon the presentation of symptoms or in a ‘targeted’ way, instead of routinely, is outrageous in the face of the evidence that is now available. One single asymptomatic staff member or resident through no fault of their own can cost lives. It is that simple.
“The government must not squander this opportunity to finally demonstrate to our care workers, our residents living in care homes and to their families that it is not neglecting the social care sector during this crisis.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Throughout this unprecedented global outbreak we have been working tirelessly with the care sector to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
“We have based all our decisions on the best scientific and clinical advice – as a result nearly two thirds of care homes have had no outbreak at all.
“Our aim is to make it as easy, fast and simple as possible for anybody who needs to get a test to do so and by significantly increasing testing capacity we can now test all care workers and residents, regardless of symptoms.”