The health secretary – under fire from the UK statistics chief for “misleading” the public over testing targets – claimed success for his programme in the setting now expected to suffer up to half of all deaths.
But he came under fire from Labour, which argued he had rowed back on an earlier promise for all residents and staff to have had the tests by 6 June.
On 15 May, Mr Hancock said: “We will test every resident and every member of staff in our elderly care homes in England between now and early June.”
And the government's lockdown ‘roadmap’, published four days earlier, read: “By 6 June, every care home for the over 65s will have been offered testing for residents and staff.”
“This isn’t good enough and the government has been too slow to act,” said Liz Kendall, Labour’s social care spokeswoman.
But Mr Hancock said: “The goal we set is that the tests will be delivered by 6 June.
“That was completed yesterday I’m very glad to say, on time and what that means is that, for about three quarters of a million people living in just over 9,000 eligible care homes, the tests have been delivered.”
The BBC’s presenter Andrew Marr asked: “So, you can’t actually say they’ve all been tested. Which is what they were promised?” but the health secretary replied: “No, they were promised that we would get tests to them.”
And added: “If you’re running a care home, sometimes you may want a couple of days to prepare the residents, to make sure you’re ready.”
The “eligible” care homes receiving the test kits are any with someone aged over 65, or with dementia, but excluding those for people with learning difficulties.
Mr Hancock has been strongly criticised for claiming to have thrown “a protective ring” around care homes, when they were sent 25,000 elderly patients released from hospitals – without being tested for Covid-19.
It wasn’t until 15 April, after more than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths in care homes according to the Office for National Statistics, that a plan to test all patients before they were admitted was unveiled.
They were also in the back of the queue for PPE [personal protective equipment], which was prioritised for the NHS instead.
Ms Kendall added: “Care home residents and staff need to be regularly tested if we are going to get to grips with this virus.
“And we swiftly need to move to regularly testing family members too, so they can safely visit their loved ones.”
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