New Infection Prevention and Control Guidance has been published which will be effective from 4 April 2022 in England. This includes the reduction of asymptomatic testing to twice weekly by lateral flow test (test kits free) and the non-renewal of the Infection Control and Testing Fund.
Responding to the news, Homecare Association's CEO Dr Jane Townson said:
“For the past six weeks, we have been urging the government to review the policy for testing, which is important to help protect people receiving homecare.
We welcome the government’s decision to reduce the requirement for lateral flow tests (LFTs) in social care to twice weekly, bringing it in line with most of the NHS. We are also pleased that the costs for the supply of tests are covered at a time when financial pressures on homecare providers are at an all-time high.
We believe this strikes the right balance between protecting people at higher risk and avoiding unintended consequences for the health and care system.
We are, however, deeply concerned that funding to cover costs of paying staff when isolating and the time and administrative costs of testing has been stopped.
Lack of available infection control funding risks careworkers being unable to afford to isolate when COVID-19 positive, particularly as cost of living is escalating. Many are already on low wages and paid by the minute because councils purchase care by the minute. People receiving care are typically in higher risk categories for COVID-19 and we must do all we can to minimise spread.
We are hearing from providers who currently have up to 30% of their workforce off sick, and therefore unable to provide care for older and disabled people in the community. Workers only become eligible for Statutory Sick Pay after three days, and infection control funding is essential to help providers pay staff as close to a full wage as possible while isolating. Most local authority fee rates for homecare are inadequate to cover normal costs of homecare delivery never mind additional costs due to COVID-19.
The government and its public health advisors at the UK Health Security Agency claim we should learn to live with COVID-19 in the way we have with influenza and adopt a similar approach to infection prevention and control. Recent variants of COVID-19 are far more transmissible than ‘flu and, unlike the latter, have been shown to damage the immune system and multiple organs, including the brain, with potentially serious long-term consequences for population health. Re-infection rates with COVID-19, even in vaccinated people, are substantial. COVID-19 is not like ‘flu. In addition to regular vaccination to maintain immunity, testing and PPE, we need to reduce exposure, making indoor air as much like the outdoors as possible, by improving building ventilation and investigating novel approaches to routine disinfection such as use of far-UVC light.
We call on the government to make Infection Control Funding available urgently to help homecare providers support their staff, who in turn care for the most at risk in society and to develop an evidence-based and effective approach to “learning to live with COVID-19.”