July 30, 2020 / 4:53 PM / 7 days ago

UK care home residents, staff unable to get regular COVID-19 tests, says care provider

FILE PHOTO: Signage outside the Elizabeth Lodge Care Home, run by CareUK, is seen during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Enfield, Britain, April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain’s largest care home providers said the government is unable to meet its promise to regularly test staff and residents in care homes after problems were discovered with coronavirus testing kits.

Earlier this month, the government announced that staff will be tested for the virus each week while residents will receive a test every 28 days. Health minister, Matt Hancock, said at the time this would keep residents and staff safe.However, Andrew Knight, chief executive of residential services at CareUK, said the government told him that a problem with a test from an unnamed supplier means that it may take five weeks before staff and residents can access regular testing.

“I am sure many of you will find this situation as disappointing as I do,” Knight said in a letter to relatives.

The testing is seen as critical to combating the spread of coronavirus in care homes. The health department recommended the regular testing after a study showed thousands people working in care homes who had the disease, but did not have symptoms, were spreading the virus.

Britain has recorded the most coronavirus deaths of any country in Europe, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has come under criticism for an often-inconsistent response to the pandemic, especially on testing.

The government’s handling of care homes has emerged as a major controversy. More than 20,000 care home residents in Britain have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus.

In the early stages of the pandemic, many hospital patients were discharged into homes for the elderly and vulnerable, many without being tested.

The Department of Health said the testing has not been paused but declined to provide further details.

Britain’s testing push has previously been hit by problems with kits. Health minister Hancock said on July 16 that some sampling swabs made by Northern Ireland-based firm Randox Laboratories should not be used.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Tommy Wilkes; editing by Stephen Addison

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