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Twice weekly Covid testing of care staff ‘not compatible with working schedule’

Twice weekly Covid testing of care staff ‘not compatible with working schedule’
Macro image of a Covid-19 test cartridge showing a negative result.

Care home staff do not have the time required to test themselves twice a week with lateral flow tests, which means the use of tests may not prevent Covid outbreaks, research has found.

The study, which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and has not yet been peer reviewed, revealed 63% of staff across 11 care homes in Liverpool only had time to carry out just a third of the rapid Covid testing required per week across six weeks in December and January.

In addition, six of the homes developed Covid outbreaks within ten days of the study but only one returned a positive lateral flow test beforehand. And when compared to 75 homes not participating in the research, no difference was found in the proportion of homes that had outbreaks.

The researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham and Imperial College London concluded lateral flow testing was ‘not compatible with the realities of [the staff] working schedule’ and ‘risks an increase in staff dissatisfaction’ and ‘increased staff turnover and burnout’.

They continued: ‘Without addressing the contextual and human factors that lead to poor adherence of testing protocols, these testing regimes will not have the opportunity to perform at the required level to prevent outbreaks in care homes.’

Employees may also not have adhered to the testing regimen because they did not know how to carry out the tests properly because of inconsistent training, accuracy concerns about the test and having to go to the workplace during time off for testing, they added.

Staff in the study were tested twice a week with self-administered rapid tests. Yet just 8.6% achieved more than 75% of the required lateral flow tests while only 25% carried out more than or equal to half the tests required.

The Government currently requires care home staff to take a lateral flow test twice a week, alongside a weekly PCR test. PCR tests identify coronavirus cases at a lower viral load but take longer, while lateral flow tests identify highly infectious individuals with results within 30 minutes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that rapid lateral flow tests, along with PCR tests, are ‘vital weapons in our arsenal’ as they combine ‘rapid results’ of lateral flow tests ‘with the higher sensitivity of PCR tests’.

They added: ‘We remain committed to the use of these rapid lateral flow devices in care homes, and we are in touch with care homes with lower-take up rates to provide additional support.’

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