TESTS for coronavirus will be given to everyone in care homes, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce today.
The intervention comes only after 4,000 residents are feared to have died from COVID-19.
Any residents and staff with symptoms of the deadly virus will be tested as part of the Government’s plans to ramp up testing to 100,000 a day.
Mr Hancock said: “I am deeply conscious that people in residential care are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus.
“We are doing everything we can to keep workers, residents and their families safe, and I am determined to ensure that everyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to access one.”
He said anyone discharged from hospitals into care homes would also be tested.
He added: “Testing is key in our battle against coronavirus, and as part of our plan to prevent the spread and save lives.”
Even people who are admitted to care homes from hospitals and who test negative, have been advised to self-isolate for 14 days as part of the “shielding” program for the nation’s most vulnerable.
There have been outbreaks at 92 care homes already, and currently, only the first five symptomatic residents in a care home are tested to confirm there is an outbreak.
So far only 500 care home staff have been tested.
The new strategy comes after Office of National Statistics said only 217 people had died, but industry experts have said that number is more likely to be 4,000.
Care Minister Helen Whately told BBC Radio4: “It’s absolutely true the ONS published figures for people who have very sadly died… we expect that since then more people will have very sadly died.
The numbers released by the ONS are only up to date as of April 3.
Ms Whately added: “some of the care providers, some of the large providers have said we know that the numbers are higher.”
The Alzheimer’s Society has estimated the figure of deaths in care homes could be around 2,500.
Chair of the Independent Care Group Mike Padgham has said the virus could have already claimed the lives of 4,000 aged care residents.
Mr Hancock’s announcement followed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s promise last night that care home residents and staff had “not been forgotten”.
He tried to reassure social care workers they would be getting personal protective equipment (PPE), as part of the furious row over protective kit.
He said: “You’ve absolutely not been forgotten, there’s an enormous amount of focus, whether it’s at the NHS or Public Health England to make sure that care homes not just get the PPE they need, they get the testing and support they need.”
Medical Director of Public Health England Yvonne Doyle said the challenge to fight coronavirus in care homes was incredibly difficult, but they had not been left behind.
She said last night: “We are very cognisant of what’s happening in care homes, (COVID-19) doesn’t distinguish. It will pick the vulnerable and they of course will not be immune.”
“It’s a very challenging group because many of these residents may have dementia and it’s important it is a humane response as well.”