Munira has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to ask why regular, free coronavirus tests are still not available for staff members and service users of adult respite day care centres.
In the letter, Munira asks Hancock why testing is not in place so that respite centres can resume these vital services.
Munira has pushed for day respite care centres to have access to Covid-19 testing previously. In July, Matt Hancock promised there was ‘a project underway’ to achieve this.
However, despite this promise, little progress has been made and there is still a clear discrepancy in place between day care centres and care homes.
Munira has also raised this issue in the national press here.
“These vital services, such as Homelink in my constituency, provide much needed support for people with dementia, learning difficulties and other complex needs. They are also a lifeline to unpaid carers, who are exhausted as a result of having to take on extra caring responsibilities throughout the pandemic.
That’s why it’s crucial that day respite care centres are able to open in a Covid-secure way as quickly as possible. Having access to free and regular testing for staff and service users is a key part of being able to do this.
Yet despite the Secretary of State stating a project was underway to achieve this all the way back in July, Homelink and other day respite care centres still don’t have access to what was promised. This is not acceptable.
That’s why I have written to the Secretary of State again. Day respite care centres must be treated the same as care homes. I will continue to raise this to ensure day respite care centres get the resources they need.”
The text of the letter is as follows:
I am writing to you about the urgent need for day respite care centres to have access to free, regular testing for staff and users as they begin to reopen.
You will be aware of the critical role that day respite care centres play in providing care and social interaction for the most vulnerable, especially those living with dementia and other complex needs. They provide a lifeline for unpaid carers, many of whom are even more exhausted and stressed as a result of the additional caring responsibilities they have had to take on during lockdown, without their usual support in place.
Thankfully, many day respite care centres are now considering how they can safely reopen to resume their vital services. For example, Homelink, a day respite care centre in my constituency, which does amazing work to support local residents, is in the process of implementing rigorous safety measures to ensure they are COVID-secure.
Testing of course must be a key part of this plan.
Ensuring all staff, clients and volunteers are not carrying the coronavirus prior to resuming Homelink’s face-to-face support services is crucial for minimising the possibility of people inadvertently transmitting the virus, particularly if they are asymptomatic.
The same is true for all day care providers.
Regular testing, as was announced for care homes, will be essential in ensuring there are no outbreaks among these vulnerable groups. This is a vital part of keeping people safe. That is why I was shocked to learn that day care providers will not automatically have access to regular COVID-19 testing.
You will recall that I raised this issue with you in the House on 7th July, to which you responded that there was “a project under way on this” and that you would write to me with “the full details of the plan to make this happen”. However, I have still not received further information from you about this.
Initially I did not follow up because for an all-too-brief period, respite day care centres such as Homelink were given access to testing.
However, I have recently been informed that this is no longer the case. My local council has contacted your Department on when testing will be available to day care centres, to which they responded:
“Unfortunately at this stage we are unable to offer testing to day care centres, however other councils have also raised this and we absolutely haven’t forgotten about day care centres and are still building up capacity. Our testing strategy is guided by SAGE and we will continue to work closely with SAGE and PHE to identify priority areas for testing as our capacity increases. We are working hard to increase our testing capacity, develop new technologies and reach more people.”
Firstly, can you confirm if there was ever a plan to ensure respite care and day care centres would have access to testing as you stated there would be on 7th July?
Secondly, will you outline plans to address this disparity in access to testing between day care centres and care homes immediately?
You have claimed to put a protective ring around social care. That ring must extend to respite care centres. Not only do they provide a lifeline to carers but they play a pivotal role in the health and wellbeing of the people that use them, which in turn relieves the pressure on NHS and care services. In learning the lessons from the first wave, respite care providers
must be allowed to carry on delivering their services in a Covid-secure way by access to regular testing coronavirus testing.
I look forward to your reply.