Call for more coronavirus tests in care home as UK hits just a fifth of 100,000 daily target promised by end of the month

England’s Chief Medical Officer has said screening for coronavirus must be increased in care homes as it was revealed just a fifth of the 100,000 tests a day promised by the end of the month were being carried out.

Monday, 13th April 2020, 6:20 pm
Updated Monday, 13th April 2020, 7:00 pm

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman today said in the 24-hour period up to 9am on Sunday, 18,000 tests were carried out.

Some 2,630 of those were NHS staff and the spokesman said this marked “significant progress on where we were a little over a week ago”.

But the figure represented just a fifth of the number of tests Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised would be carried out every day by the end of April - and was even further away from the goal set by the Prime Minister last month.

A tester administers a coronavirus test at a testing site near Manchester Airport, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: PA

On April 2 Mr Hancock made the pledge to reach 100,000 daily tests, and said: “I'm determined we'll get there.”

But the ambition had been scaled down from Boris Johnson’s previous aim - on March 25 the PM said he wanted to reach a target of 250,000 tests a day “hopefully very soon”.

Earlier the same day he told MPs the Government was “massively increasing” testing up to 25,000 per day.

But Mr Johnson’s spokesman said today: “New capacity is coming on stream all the time.”

It comes as Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said he would like to see coronavirus testing increased in care homes amid 92 of the settings reporting new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours.

Asked at the daily televised coronavirus briefing if deaths were recorded properly in such settings, he said: “Everybody who sadly dies, the doctor will make an assessment based on her or his view about what the cause of death is, that’s what the death certificate says in all cases.”

He added: “Doctors take it very seriously and try to make sure that they get as much information to give accurate data.

“One of the things we want to do is to extend the amount of testing of people in care homes as the ability to test ramps up over the next few weeks.

“Because clearly care homes are one of the areas where there are large numbers of vulnerable people and that is an area of risk and therefore we would very much… like to have much more extensive testing.”

Some 13.5 per cent of care homes have now reported cases of Covid-19.

Liz Kendall MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Social Care, said: “Today’s press conference has exposed the growing crisis in our care homes because of coronavirus.

“Ministers must publish daily figures of deaths in care homes so we know the true scale of the problem and how fast it is spreading. They must also ensure social care has the resources it needs and that vital PPE and testing get to care workers on the frontline.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, earlier said the lack of PPE and testing is leading to Covid-19 “running wild” in care homes.

“The problem is there’s not enough of either,” she said.

“And what there is is going to the NHS, which is the right decision but it is leaving care settings in a difficult position.

“We were underprepared for this, we are playing catch-up on getting enough PPE and testing, I’m wondering if the needs of care homes were taken seriously early on.”

The Department of Health said that, as of 9am on Monday, 290,720 people have been tested of which 88,621 tested positive.

Overall, 367,667 tests have concluded, with 14,506 tests carried out on Sunday.

The test figures exclude Northern Ireland.

A further 717 people were announced to have died in hospital from coronavirus today, bringing the total to 11,329, at least 716 of those have been in Yorkshire.

But care sector bosses have said daily death tolls are “airbrushing out” hundreds of elderly people who have died at care homes.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of charity Marie Curie said the figures released every day of hospital deaths are “lagging behind the big number”.

Care England has estimated there have been nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes, leaving social care as “the neglected front-line”.

Ms Abrahams said: “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”

It comes after Mr Hancock said he can guarantee regular coronavirus testing for the care sector.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday, Mr Hancock said measures are being taken but the process is “nuanced and complicated”.

Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today defended the Government amid criticism that more lives could have been saved if the UK should have followed other countries in implementing lockdown measures sooner.

Mr Raab said: “I don’t think it is clear, I don’t think those comparisons are like for like, because of where we are on the curve… but also the individual circumstances in those countries.

“We will continue to monitor and we do monitor what’s going on in other countries and make sure we feed that in to what we’re doing here.”

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance commented: “It is very difficult to make those comparisons.”

He added: “I think there is a lot to learn from other countries in terms of what we need to do and we’re definitely looking very closely at other countries in terms of how they think about release of lockdown measures.”

Sir Patrick said he expects the death toll to increase this week before “plateauing”.

On the number of hospital deaths of Covid-19, he said the UK is tracking behind Italy and “following the same sort of path”.

He added: “I think this week we are going to see a further increase, thereafter we should see a plateau as the effects of social-distancing come through.

“That plateau may last for some time and begin to decrease.”