Care homes in England have been without regular coronavirus tests for over a fortnight, a leading provider said, after the Government said a certain kit should not be used while it investigates safety concerns.
Methodist Homes (MHA) said it has entered its third week without routine testing for staff and residents following safety issues identified with Randox tests in mid June.
More than two thirds of its care homes (67 out of 90) do not have access to routine testing, delaying the resumption of indoor visits.
On June 16, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs he had become aware of some test swabs “that are not up to the usual high standard that we expect”.
He said: “As a precautionary measure, and while we investigate further, we’re requesting the use of these Randox swab test kits are paused in all settings until further notice.”
MHA, which has 222 care homes and schemes across the UK, said it was “yet another blow” for the sector.
It comes just over a week after the Government gave care homes the green light to allow loved ones to visit residents after months apart.
It is understood some care homes had resumed socially distanced outdoors visits in previous weeks, frustrated at a lack of pace from the Government in bringing out the guidance.
The lack of routine testing means the affected homes cannot resume indoor visits for the family members of residents who are unable to go outside, because they may be too ill or frail.
Chief executive Sam Monaghan said it was an understatement to say the organisation was “disappointed and frustrated by this latest failure in the care home testing regime”.
He continued: “We have insisted from early on that the evidence pointed to regular, routine testing in care homes as the best means of controlling the spread of the virus in care settings.
“For a few weeks it felt like we could start to re-introduce some semblance of normality back into our homes, welcoming back health visitors, outdoor socially distanced visits where it was safe to do so and awaiting the green light from local public health for more family contact.
“We are now heading into our third week of no testing for the majority of our care homes following the Randox debacle and we understand it will be weeks before it is rectified.”
MHA has not been told when to expect replacement kits.
Care UK, which runs 114 care homes in England, has written to relatives of residents to say they are all “finding it increasingly difficult to access regular testing”.
The letter, from chief executive Andrew Knight, suggests it will be a minimum five-week wait before most of its homes in England can access another round of testing.
It reads: “We have been exploring options for privately-funded testing, but as yet have been unable to identify a supplier who is able to reliably support us at the scale we require. This experience is mirrored across other major care organisations.
“I am sure many of you will find this situation as disappointing as I do, especially given the positive messages the Government is still issuing about the scale of the testing programme it is supposedly offering.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said care home testing has not stopped, and any resident or staff member with symptoms can get tested.
A spokesman said: “A combination of issues have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, which are predominantly used in care homes, are currently available and we are temporarily constrained in our ability to do as much asymptomatic testing as we want.
“We are working around the clock to ensure there is minimum disruption to repeat asymptomatic testing and get our capacity back on track as soon as possible.”