Ministers counting three-quarters of unused swabs

Ministers counting three-quarters of unused swabs

July 3, 2020

Three in four DIY coronavirus swab kits are NOT being used – despite being included in the Government’s testing tally

  • More than 450,000 of the kits were sent to Britons or care homes in single week 
  • But just 117,759 (26 per cent) of the swabs were actually returned to laboratories
  • All 450,000 included in official test tally, in a move slammed as ‘inappropriate’

Just one in four DIY Covid-19 swabs are actually being used despite being included in the Government’s daily figures, it emerged today.

More than 450,000 of the kits were shipped to care homes to be used on vulnerable residents and to Britons with symptoms of the virus in the week ending June 24.

But just 117,759 (26 per cent) of the swabs were actually returned to laboratories to be processed and produce a result, it was claimed. 

All 450,000 were included in the Government’s testing count, in a move slammed as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘questionable’ by experts today. 

Some of the missing tests – which can be uncomfortable to take – were likely thrown away because Britons struggled to take a sample themselves.

Others may have been discarded by care home staff who were unable to get elderly care home patients to sit still.

But health officials have admitted a large chunk of the unused tests were shipped to care homes to be used for future outbreaks.

The Government has repeatedly been accused of fiddling with its testing numbers after being criticised for missing its own targets 

Taking proper swabs can be uncomfortable because they need to be pushed deep inside the throat and nose (file)

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, told the Sun: ‘If you are putting it on the shelf, you can’t call it testing. That’s stockpiling.

‘They shouldn’t be included in the official testing figures. It’s an inappropriate use of data.

‘It doesn’t surprise me that large numbers aren’t being returned. It involves putting a long swab up your nose and the back of your throat – trying it at home can be problematic.’

Staff and residents in care homes for people over 65 or with dementia will be regularly tested for coronavirus from next week, the Government announced today.

The Department of Health and Social Care said staff will be tested weekly, while residents will have a test every 28 days as part of a new social care testing strategy.

This is in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak or at increased risk of a flare-up, the DHSC added.

MHA Care Homes chief executive Sam Monaghan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he welcomed the new guidance as ‘the step change we needed’.

However Mr Monaghan also warned that agency staff are ‘not included in this’ as far as he is aware – and that many care homes rely on them.

Agency staff make up about 10 per cent of the social care workforce, and care homes are three times more likely to rely on them than other industries.

The repeat testing programme will be rolled out to all care homes for the over 65s and those with dementia which have registered to receive retesting over the next four weeks before expanding to the entire care home sector from August.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Our response to this global pandemic has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts, and we will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.

‘This will not only keep residents and care workers safe, but it will give certainty and peace of mind to the families who may be worried about their loved ones, and give staff the confidence to do what they do best.’

The Government has faced criticism for failing to protect care homes from the virus. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said it was ‘questionable’ to count kits used to stock nursing homes as part of official figures.

But he added it was ‘good news’ that the Government appears to be planning for a future outbreak so it is not blind-sighted like it was the first time.

The latest testing target the Government has set itself is to turn around every coronavirus test within 24 hours.

Boris Johnson promised to achieve the goal by July 1, but figures released yesterday revealed that almost half of all swabs are still taking up to two days or more. 

Fewer than one in 10 of people who take a coronavirus test at home get results within 24 hours – with the majority waiting four days or more.

SAGE says close contacts need to be tracked down and told to self isolate within 24 hours of interacting with a coronavirus-infected patient. 

Any longer than that risks allowing people to unknowingly infect countless others, making it impossible for tracers to hunt down every contact.  

A Department of Health report published yesterday showed just 9.3 per cent of people who take a test at home get a result the following day. 

Out of 58,500 swabs posted to symptomatic patients, just 5,468 were turned around in 24 hours.

Of the 76,340 who took a test at a drive-through centre, less than half (42.1 per cent) were given a result the next day.

Mobile testing centres – which travelled to test 59,251 essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons in the week of June 18 – also only gave a result within 24 hours to four in 10 patients.  

And results from antibody test kits – being trialled on healthcare staff to see if coronavirus survivors have immunity against the disease – were only turned around in a day 20 per cent of the time, figures show.

The Prime Minister promised on June 3 that every coronavirus test would be turned around within a day by the end of the month.   

But Number 10 has so far failed to provide any data on progress towards hitting the target with the deadline now having passed.  

The weekly statistics on the 24 hour target published today only cover the period between June 18-24. This means it will not become clear until the end of next week, when the second set of data will be published, if the target was met by June 30. 

Meanwhile, staff and residents in care homes for people over 65 or with dementia will be regularly tested for coronavirus from next week, the Government announced today.

The Department of Health and Social Care said staff will be tested weekly, while residents will have a test every 28 days as part of a new social care testing strategy.

This is in addition to intensive testing in any care home facing an outbreak or at increased risk of a flare-up, the DHSC added.

MHA Care Homes chief executive Sam Monaghan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he welcomed the new guidance as ‘the step change we needed’.

However Mr Monaghan also warned that agency staff are ‘not included in this’ as far as he is aware – and that many care homes rely on them.

Agency staff make up about 10 per cent of the social care workforce, and care homes are three times more likely to rely on them than other industries.

The repeat testing programme will be rolled out to all care homes for the over 65s and those with dementia which have registered to receive retesting over the next four weeks before expanding to the entire care home sector from August.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Our response to this global pandemic has always been led by the latest scientific advice from world-class experts, and we will now offer repeat testing to staff and residents in care homes, starting with homes for elderly residents before expanding to the entire care home sector.

‘This will not only keep residents and care workers safe, but it will give certainty and peace of mind to the families who may be worried about their loved ones, and give staff the confidence to do what they do best.’

The Government has faced criticism for failing to protect care homes from the virus.

There have been 14,658 deaths linked to Covid-19 in care homes across England and Wales registered up to June 19, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data.

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