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30th May 2020

Science Coronavirus: Wales introduces blanket testing in large care homes

Science Coronavirus: Wales introduces blanket testing in large care homes

Science

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All residents and staff in English care homes are being tested regardless of symptoms – but not in Wales

Coronavirus testing is being extended to staff and residents without symptoms at care homes of more than 50 beds, the Welsh Government has confirmed.

Testing of residents and staff without symptoms is only happening in smaller homes where there is an outbreak.

The Welsh Government has faced criticism for not testing everyone in the sector.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said larger homes face more at risk from coronavirus.

But Plaid Cymru said the policy disadvantages smaller care homes.

Figures from the Welsh Government showed there were 1,239 deaths in Welsh care homes in April. Last year the figure was 478.

Of the deaths this April, 368 were recorded as either caused or suspected to be caused by Covid-19.

Testing in care homes in Wales remains more restrictive than in England, where all residents and staff are being tested regardless of symptoms.

Following complaints that Wales was not following England on the measure the Welsh Government extended the policy – from testing just staff and residents with symptoms, to all those in a home where someone has tested positive.

Neighbouring care homes may also be tested under a system which will use mobile testing units and home testing kits.

On Wednesday Mr Drakeford reiterated that the evidence did not exist to show everyone in the sector should be tested.

The first minister, speaking in the first plenary session of the renamed Welsh Parliament, said he had not seen any evidence that led him to believe testing of non-symptomatic residents and staff in care homes had “clinical value”.

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But later in the session, conducted over the internet, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price put it to the first minister testing of people without symptoms was not happening at smaller care homes because of a lack of capacity.

In reply Mr Drakeford said: “There was evidence that in larger care and nursing homes there is a clinical point to testing even non-symptomatic settings.

“They’re often focused more on the nursing home end of the care home sector.

“There is a greater concentration of deaths in care where nursing is part of care than in the rest of the sector, as you might expect given coronavirus attracts people with underlying health conditions.”

He said larger care homes have a larger number of people going in and out of them.

Mr Price said the limit of 50 was “arbitrary” and Mr Drakeford conceded it had a “component of arbitraryness”.

But he said it was “not plucked out of the air” and is derived from “the science that lies behind it, the nature of the care home sector and the advice that then goes to ministers”.

He added care homes with more than 50 people were “more vulnerable” to coronavirus.

Following the meeting Mr Price claimed the policy unfairly discriminated against smaller care homes in rural and valleys communities.

“If the underlying reason why testing is being denied to all homes is capacity then the Welsh Government needs to admit it and address it,” he said.

Science ‘Work in tandem’

Paul Davies, Conservative leader in the Senedd, said: “The people of Wales need to see governments working together at this time of national crisis and the Welsh Government need to work in tandem with the UK government where it can – this includes universal testing for all residents and staff in care homes.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are now offering testing, regardless of symptoms or positive cases, to care homes with more than 50 beds.

“Evidence shows there is a greater prevalence of coronavirus in larger care homes. Eight mobile testing units are being made available across Wales to deliver a rapid testing response where needed.”

It remains unclear how often the care homes would be tested.

At the same meeting Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government had received “a significant delivery of testing equipment from overseas”.

“Today it is being installed and validated,” he said.

“That process is being completed as rapidly as possible, and will lead to a further step up in capacity next week.”

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