A home care chief has called for care workers to be prioritised when coronavirus tests are processed, as it emerged some carers are waiting more than a week for results.
Dr Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association, said this will help maintain workforce capacity amid ongoing pressures that are being exacerbated by the spread of Omicron.
Examples provided by a national home care provider, which have been flagged to the Government, illustrate some of the problems staff are experiencing in getting PCR test results.
One staff member in Wimbledon, south London, who took a PCR on December 23, was still awaiting results on December 31.
Another care worker in Basingstoke, Hampshire, was told to travel to Newbury in Berkshire to get a walk-in PCR test, but discovered their local centre was “completely quiet” when they supported a client to get tested.
In North Cheshire, care staff are waiting seven days on average for PCR test results to be returned.
At one point, 12 staff in this area were isolating while they awaited test results.
Dr Townson told the PA news agency staffing problems vary by region, with areas such as London, Lancashire and south Cumbria “really struggling” in recent weeks.
She has been told by some larger members, mainly providing services in England, that around 6% of their staff are off with Covid-19 or isolating – approximately double the usual absence rate.
Testing is “a big issue in the short term”, and is “really key” to keeping everything going safely, she added.
She told PA: “I think it’s very, very patchy, it’s, it’s very regional. So places like London – very problematic.
“Other places are muddling along, but the staff shortages have been made worse by slow turnaround times with tests.
“So I’ve raised that multiple times with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) – they say that health and social care workers are supposed to be prioritised in the PCR test turnaround, but there are stories of tests not coming back for five days, 10 days, seven days.
“And of course, all the time that the tests don’t come back, people can’t get back out to work.
“And of course, the difficulty obtaining lateral flow tests is problematic.
“So I’ve made the point many times to the department – that they shouldn’t announce policies without it being possible to actually implement them in practice, because it creates another whole load of issues.”
Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communications, advocacy and activism at the learning disability charity Mencap, said the Government must take urgent action on addressing access to testing for social care.
She said: “The whole care sector is experiencing delays in waiting for PCR test results – in some cases, we have had to wait up to eight days.
“There are also critical issues with the supply of lateral flow tests, meaning that some support workers are having to self-isolate unnecessarily at a time when staff shortages are acute.
“We are having to ship tests from one part of the country to another, but smaller providers can’t do that and are stuck.
“This ongoing struggle with Covid testing and cases is putting a huge strain on services who support people with a learning disability and the impact this is having on the sector cannot be underestimated.”
The DHSC was approached for comment.