Adult day care centres denied access to ‘vital’ coronavirus testing

Exclusive: Despite surplus testing capacity throughout UK, correspondence shows government ‘unable to offer testing to day centres’

Coronavirus in numbers

Thousands of people with dementia, learning difficulties and other mental health conditions, as well as their carers, have been unable to get tests for the coronavirus and face missing out on vital support, The Independent can reveal.

The government has rolled out extensive testing in care homes and hospital settings, yet the same programme has not been provided for day centres, many of which have been forced to scale back the services they offer.

The charity Carers UK warned that a lack of testing “will be a factor in stopping hundreds of centres” from being able to deliver crucial services for thousands of vulnerable people.

In correspondence sent to Richmond Council on 19 October, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) admitted that it was “unable to offer testing to day care centres”, adding that other councils had “also raised this” issue.

The DHSC later told The Independent that “our testing strategy for adult social care is based on scientific advice on the most effective use of available testing capacity”.

However, the most recent data shows that only 53 per cent of the UK’s testing capacity is currently being used, leading to calls for the government to implement routine testing in day centres and other social care settings.

Day care providers insist that they have been “neglected” since the first lockdown, and have accused No 10 of turning a “blind eye” to the sector.

Other centres say that they have been forced to close their doors throughout the entirety of the pandemic because of the inability to ensure patients’ safety on a day-to-day basis and a lack of financial support.

Those that have managed to stay open insist that the provision of regular testing would enable them to provide a safer environment for staff and patients.

The failure to get local day-care services back up and running is taking its toll on family members who have seen their responsibilities increase during the Covid crisis.

Just under two-fifths of unpaid family carers are now providing more care because their local services – including day centres – have been closed or significantly reduced, research from Carers UK shows.

In a survey of almost 6,000 carers, 81 per cent said they were now providing more care for family members than before the March lockdown, while three-quarters said they were mentally exhausted as a result of the burden of care.

Christine Casely, a case studies manager at Carers UK, warned that these individuals “are on the brink”.

She said that “an expansion of testing would benefit everyone, including helping day centres to operate".

“We cannot emphasise enough how important these services are to carers’ health and wellbeing, and older and disabled people needing care,” Ms Casely added.

Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham and the health and social care spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, last week wrote to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, urging him to provide regular testing for day centres.

This, she wrote, would help to ensure the resumption of these “vital services” and provide a “lifeline” for those individuals who have struggled to care for their loved ones.

Ms Wilson first raised the raise in parliament on 7 July, and was told by Mr Hancock that there was “a project under way on this”. The health secretary promised to outline “the full details of the plan” in a letter, yet Ms Wilson claims she has yet to receive this.

“Day centres should be treated the same as any care home and given access to vital testing, certainly for staff, and preferably for users of their services as well,” she told The Independent.

“Currently, they cannot regularly check that their staff are safe, yet are caring for vulnerable individuals, many of whom have got health conditions that raise their risk of dying from Covid.

“We know that there is a high capacity for testing, but a lot of that isn’t being used. I don’t see why this should be an issue now.”

Homelink, a day respite care centre in Ms Wilson’s constituency, said it had been briefly given access to regular testing during the summer before the service was later removed.

Alnoor Samji, a trustee at Homelink, said the centre had adapted its services to the necessary coronavirus regulations – by introducing care bubbles, social distancing and personal protective equipment – but insisted that testing “would really help us”.

“Our staff and volunteers will bend over backwards, will have the rigorous protocols in place, but the government fails to provide us with access to tests,” Mr Samji told The Independent.

“We're stuck in a position where we're going to take vulnerable people into the building, and we've got everything in place, yet the one thing that would really help us, the government isn't providing."

Mr Samji said that the local council had also been unable to help provide regular testing for Homelink, which has been forced to scale down its usual weekly intake of 70 clients.

“Matt Hancock is aware of the issue,” he added. “It's something that nobody is doing anything about.”


Sherratts Wood, a day care provider that runs three centres in Staffordshire, said it had similarly been unable to access testing for its staff and clients.

Louise Fletcher-Chard, its founding director, said the sector “has always been at the bottom of the pecking order”.

“It’s just the way it is,” she told The Independent. “I’d love to see us being routinely tested, but I’m a realist as well and they've had to prioritise people at the front line of healthcare. But I’d like to see us pretty soon behind it.”

She said that Sherratts Wood, which cares for adults predominantly in their forties and fifties with learning difficulties, had recently signed up for an antibody testing pilot launched by Staffordshire County Council, but added that there was “no sign of standard routine testing as of yet”.

“We're looking after people with some incredibly complex needs,” she said. “We save millions for local authorities because without us, these individuals would be in residential settings, which would cost thousands of pounds a month.

“But it seems there’s a bit of a blind spot when it comes to us day care centres.”

Ms Fletcher-Chard said she intended to keep Sherratts Wood open during the second lockdown.

However, Active Lives day centre in Kent, which offers care for adults with learning and physical disabilities, said it was being forced to close again after recently reopening.

Its manager, Janice Roberts, said that her staff had not been provided with any regular testing, arguing that services like hers had been “neglected” throughout the pandemic.

“We don’t come under care homes. We don’t come under supported living services or anything like that,” she told The Independent. “We’re day care and always just seem to slip through the net. We're just not categorised. I think we get missed out a lot.”

Daisy Cooney, a health and social care policy manager at Age UK, said that day services are “absolutely vital to supporting some of those hardest hit by the pandemic and their carers”.

“The fact there have been difficulties with the testing system is a major concern, especially if it’s prevented some day care centres from reopening,” she told The Independent. “It will have major consequences if these vital services are unable to provide support as they need to.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are hugely grateful for the work day care centres have undertaken during this challenging period.

“Our testing strategy for adult social care is based on scientific advice on the most effective use of available testing capacity in order to limit the spread and save lives, and is kept under review. Anyone with symptoms should self-isolate and book a test via the usual routes.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in