Care home staff are still not receiving weekly Covid tests despite government promises, according to a survey by Unison.
The union said one in nine 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.
The union said 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 the union.
One in ten 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.
Almost a quarter said this did not affect their work, but a small number 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 13,000 care staff in the UK, most of whom (43%) work in residential care or in other locations (27%) such as hospices.
The rest worked in supported living (18%), homecare (12%), and as personal assistants helping individuals manage their daily lives (1%).
The union 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 findings include two in five (40%) 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.
While 15% of respondents stated that no tests were available and 8% that they were only available at drive-through facilities. Some discovered on arrival at their appointment that tests had run out.
Commenting on the findings, assistant general secretary Christina McAnea 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.’
Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, said the organisation is ‘begging’ the government to properly support care staff, residents and their families.
‘It’s hugely concerning to hear that so many care staff aren’t getting the tests they need.
‘It’s so desperately important that the promised reunion of people with dementia and their families happens swiftly and safely, after months and months of tragedy, without regular testing, staff won’t know to self-isolate if they have the virus without symptoms.
‘At least 70% of care home residents have dementia, 60% of those who receive care at home, people must be able to safely receive essential care in their own homes. Testing is one of the key ways we will defeat Covid-19, along with PPE and hygiene.
‘We’re begging the government to get this right on behalf of all the terribly sad stories we hear about daily through our support line.
‘Testing just has to be properly supported for care staff, residents and their families to limit the devastation of this virus which has already claimed so many lives of people with dementia both directly and through lockdown’s enforced isolation.’
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