A social care leader has hit out over the “totally unacceptable” shambles around Covid-19 tests and called for care homes to be given top priority.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said the lack of capacity and the delays in providing results were causing major problems for the sector, potentially putting lives at risk.
In too many cases, he said, the results were not coming back and contacts being traced within the “golden 48-hour window” when the tests proved positive.
As a result, the regime was ineffective in curbing the spread of Covid-19 which was a massive worry as a second surge now seemed inevitable, with two local lockdowns in place in Wales and more likely to follow.
He was concerned that lessons has not been learned from the first wave of coronavirus when Care Forum Wales had been ahead of the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales in urging care homes to close their doors to visitors.
In February the organisation, which represents nearly 500 social care providers in Wales, launched a campaign to shield social care to save lives.
As part of the campaign, Care Forum Wales also called for a comprehensive and effective testing regime, plentiful supplies of PPE and extra funding to help providers to survive the economic cataclysm.
Mr Kreft said: “The UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is right, we should absolutely be prioritising our care homes.
“There are a number of new quick test technologies undergoing validation. We are calling for a Welsh Government commitment to ensure they are made available to care homes as a matter of urgency as soon as they come online. Care homes must get them before airports, schools, and factories.
“We would also like an assurance that the machines already pre-ordered are prioritised for care homes.
“Care Forum Wales started this discussion in February when we were talking about the importance of testing for social care because the sector underpins the NHS here in Wales and enabled it to function.
“The current situation we’ve got it just totally unacceptable. It’s not the case that everyone isn’t trying hard but we’re not actually achieving what we need to do.
“They did adjust the access to the testing but in far too many cases we’re not getting the results quickly enough and that is causing huge problems in the sector.
“We’ve got this 48 hour golden window to ensure that we stop transmission.
“We’ve got tens of thousands of people working in our care homes in Wales. They’re coming in and out from the community.
“We know we’ve already got local lockdowns in the communities so have to make sure that people if they are asymptomatic in particular have got regular tests and that the results come through quickly so we know whether or not they have the virus.
“This disease which for many people might be quite mild is an absolutely horrendous disease for older people, people with underlying health conditions, and of course the 20,000 people in our care homes in Wales are by definition vulnerable and many of them have serious underlying health conditions.
“Our members in Care Forum Wales locked down early, way before government advice.
“We really got ahead of the game but had to make sure there was a testing regime. “There is a great news story about many care homes in Wales. Most of them have been Covid free, and those that have had the virus have been able to in most cases to deal with it and eradicate it quickly.
“What we’ve seen as lockdown has eased is that the defences have been weakend, making it easier for that transmission to come in.
“We’ve got to make sure that our care homes are protected and that’s why we launched our campaign, Shield Social Care, Save Lives.
“It’s been running for months, and it will have to run for the whole winter, because our care homes and the NHS are facing the biggest challenge we’ve ever seen. It really is a hideous situation.
“Prioritising certain sectors like social care is an absolute must. This is a safeguarding issue, for the vulnerable people living in the care homes and the magnificent staff who look after them.
“Care homes are vital to ensure that the NHS can function. Most of our hospitals have a population of older people which is probably about 60 or 70 per cent of the total patients.
“Those people have to be discharged. Our care homes need to be ready and available and they can’t do that without a regime of testing that is delivering what we need in Wales.”