COVID-19 testing widened to cover asymptomatic GPs, care home residents and staff

GPs and practice staff along with all residents and staff in care homes can now be tested for COVID-19 even if they are asymptomatic, after the government announced a further expansion of testing.

COVID-19 testing has been expanded (Photo: Andrew Milligan/Getty Images)
COVID-19 testing has been expanded (Photo: Andrew Milligan/Getty Images)

The government confirmed on Tuesday that all care home residents and staff, as well as all NHS staff, are now eligible for testing, whether or not they have symptoms.

The decision comes as official figures suggested that significant numbers of care home residents were dying from COVID-19.

At the Downing Street daily briefing on Tuesday, Public Health England's director of health improvement Professor John Newton, who is coordinating the national testing effort, said that the presence of symptoms 'was not a very good marker' for cases of COVID-19 in care homes.

Care home testing

He said: 'We've done some intensive studies of infection and what that showed was ...  there were significant numbers of residents who were asymptomatic, who had the virus. And so we've massively increased the amount of testing available – we've now tested 25,000 residents in care homes and we're rolling out testing now to symptomatic and asymptomatic residents.'

Care home testing is being led by the CQC and from this week it will be supported in this task by mobile testing units operated by the armed forces. The DHSC said that mobile testing will be deployed to areas with the highest need, and it hopes to have at least 96 units available by the start of May.

A rolling programme will aim to test all care homes as well as investigate outbreaks in specific locations. The DHSC is also piloting a system where it sends test kits direct to care homes - 4,760 tests have so far been delivered to more than 4,300 locations in England.

Care home deaths

Yesterday, the ONS published data from the CQC on COVID-19 deaths in care homes in England, which show 4,343 care home residents had died between 10 April and 24 April.

Meanwhile, ONS statistics also showed tha,t of the deaths involving COVID-19 that were registered in England and Wales up to the week ending 17 April, 77.4% (14,796 deaths) occurred in hospital with the 'remainder occurring in care homes, private homes and hospices'.

In the week ending 17 April, 2,050 of the deaths registered in England and Wales as COVID-19 related occurred in care homes. This was a steep rise from the previous week, when 826 of the COVID-19 deaths registered occurred in care homes.

Speaking at yesterday's briefing, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that from today (Wednesday) details of the numbers of deaths in care homes and the community from COVID-19 would be presented at the daily briefings, alongside the figures for deaths in hospital.

When challenged on the government's efforts to support care homes during the pandemic, Mr Hancock said that the sector had been 'a priority right from the start'.

'We've strengthened the rules around what happens in care homes to try and improve infection control,' Mr Hancock said. 'And also making testing available throughout the care sector, I think is incredibly important.

'I'm very glad that we're now able to publish these daily data, which will keep the focus on what's happening in care homes. Now we've got those data being collected we can focus on it, day in, day out. This is to be as transparent as possible, because then you find problems as quickly as possible, and we can get in and address it.'

COVID-19 test

As part of the expansion of COVID-19 testing anyone in England aged 65 and over with coronavirus symptoms can also now be tested, along with symptomatic members of their household. Symptomatic workers of any age who are unable to work from home are also now eligible for testing.

If GPs want to book a test guidance on doing so is available here.

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