Care workers looking after sick and elderly still not getting regular Covid tests

Government failing on pledge to test staff every seven days

Care home staff are ​still not receiving weekly Covid tests despite government promises, according to a survey published today (Wednesday) by UNISON.

One in ​nine (11%) employees in residential care, who look after people aged over 65 and those with dementia, say they’ve not had regular swab checks.

This fails to fulfil a government pledge that these staff would be tested every seven days for the virus.

Even those receiving ​regular checks are facing delays getting the results​, which is in breach of official guidelines, says UNISON.  ​

Lessons must be learned from ​ongoing issues with the testing process to ensure the vaccination rollout runs smoothly and all eligible care workers are immunised, says the union. 

One in ten (10%) waited more than 72 hours to learn if they were infected or not. Some even experienced hold-ups of more than a week – or did not get results back at all.

A​lmost a quarter (24%​) said this did not affect their work, but a small number had to take time off unpaid or ​were put on ​to statutory sick pay because of the long wait ​for results.

Delays and lack of access to testing for care employees could ​be putting both them and residents at increased risk of infection, says UNISON.

The results are based on a survey of nearly 13,000 care staff in the UK, ​most of whom (43%) ​work in residential care or in other locations (27%) such as hospices. The rest worked in supported living (18%), homecare (12%), and as personal assistants helping individuals manage their daily lives (1%).

The union is calling on the government to set up a reliable monitoring system to ensure eligible staff are getting tested ​each week. Care home owners refusing to deliver proper Covid checks should be prosecuted, says UNISON.

Other findings include two in five (40%) care staff – among them, workers visiting people in their own homes – ​said they had been unable to get a test within the p​revious four weeks.

​Fifteen per cent of respondents stated that no tests were available ​and 8% ​that they were only ​available at drive-through facilities​. Some discovered on arrival at their appointment ​that tests had run out.

Commenting on the findings, UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Regular testing is essential to protect care staff and those they look after.

“It’s a major concern they’re ​still being let down. A repeat of what happened during the first wave must be avoided at all costs​.

“Delays and lack of access ​to testing is put​ting workers, their families, and the people who depend on them at risk. Employers can’t afford to have staff off work – and workers can’t afford the hit financially.

“The government must get a grip on testing, honour its promises and ensure care staff have proper access to checks. ​Care staff will be hoping that the rollout of the vaccine happens much more smoothly.”

Notes to editors: 
Comments from care workers who took the survey:
“I booked an appointment, but they said you needed to pay for the test if you d​idn’t have symptoms. So, I ​didn’t do it.”  

“My place of work is only providing regular testing ​for staff with symptoms. Otherwise ​we have to arrange ​our own test​s.” 
“I’m constantly worried and stressed. I can’t take any time off because I’m on a zero hours contract. If I did​, I wouldn’t be paid.” 
– UNISON carried out the survey from 13 October to 13 November and received 12,931 responses.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary​ and private sectors.
– The union is a member of the Future Social Care Coalition. This new cross-party alliance of more than 80 organisations and individuals is calling for an immediate £3.9bn* emergency support fund for the care sector and a fair wage deal for low-paid staff.

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