Ministers have promised to ramp up coronavirus testing for care home residents and staff, as fears grow that the virus is “running wild” in adult social care.
And there are growing demands for care home deaths to be included in the daily updates for deaths in hospitals to stop potentially thousands of fatalities going under the radar.
In response to these concerns, the government has pledged that all social care staff who need a test for COVID-19 will be able to access one, as testing capacity continues to increase.
Ministers have pledged to reach 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, a target Downing Street insists the UK is on course to meet.
The latest figures show that 14,982 tests were carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on Tuesday. So far, just 505 social care workers have been tested for the coronavirus.
The Care Quality Commission will coordinate the tests and aims to have contacted all 30,000 care providers by the end of the week.
Care providers will be asked to identify workers eligible for testing and then refer them to their local testing centre.
In addition, all residents of a care home with symptoms of the disease will be tested, rather than the first five who are symptomatic, as is currently the case.
And for those who are discharged from hospital, they will be tested before returning to their care home as a matter of course.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was deeply conscious of the fact that people in care homes are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
He said: We are doing everything we can to keep workers, residents and their families safe, and I am determined to ensure that everyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to have access to one.
We have already begun testing social care workers and will roll this out nationwide over the coming days.
And as we continue to ramp up our testing programme, we will test all current care home residents with coronavirus symptoms and all new care home residents who are discharged from hospital into care.
Testing is key in our battle against coronavirus, and as part of our plan to prevent the spread and save lives we will ensure that everyone in social care who needs a test can have a test.
Labour said increased testing in the sector was essential to tackling what was an emerging crisis.
Liz Kendall, the party’s shadow minister for social care, said: We look forward to seeing details of how this latest commitment will be delivered, with only 500 care staff having been tested to date.
The government has rightly said the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This must also apply to social care, which needs a much greater priority and focus than it has had so far.
Alongside this, ministers must act to ensure all care home and home care staff get the PPE (personal protective equipment) they need and publish daily figures on deaths outside hospitals, including in care homes, so we know the full scale of the challenge we face.
The head of Public Health England said on Tuesday that health bodies are working towards including coronavirus-related deaths in care homes in the government’s daily figures.
Professor Yvonne Doyle told the daily COVID-19 news conference that PHE was working with the Office for National Statistics to get faster data on deaths in care homes, hospices, private homes and elsewhere.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the same briefing that care home residents and workers have absolutely not been forgotten about by the government.
He stressed the need for data that is consistent and accurate and timely.
Asked whether it would be more respectful to publish care home deaths along with the hospital deaths, he replied: There is absolutely no desire not to respect what’s happening in care homes and to provide that data.
The latest weekly data from the ONS showed around 10% of deaths registered up to 3 April in England and Wales were outside hospitals.
NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: The spread in care homes has largely gone under the radar because the figures are not released in the same way as the daily statistics for deaths in hospitals.
If we are to understand the true scale of the spread, the number of deaths in care homes should be released daily in the same way as they are for hospital deaths.
Sally Copley, director of policy, campaigns and partnerships at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: If the government isn’t counting these deaths, how can it be taking the urgent and necessary action to address them?
It strikes us that these deaths from coronavirus are the iceberg, and the hospital figures are just the tip.
The evidence from Europe shows more than 40% of all deaths relating to coronavirus occur in care homes, so our fear is that potentially thousands of UK deaths are being missed from official figures.