Eight-day waits for Covid test results will prevent care homes from taking advantage of new visiting rules to give families more time with relatives, Scottish Care has warned.
Donald Macaskill, CEO of the organisation representing hundreds of independent care homes, criticised the length of time it takes to process test results.
Dr Macaskill said some homes were “extremely concerned” about issues with testing and were not allowing indoor visits until procedures for detecting the virus were more robust.
He also claimed that seven and eight-day waits for results were discouraging workers from having weekly tests because some people felt there was little point in taking a test when they had yet to receive the outcome of the previous one.
The delays, Dr Macaskill claimed, would have an impact on whether homes were able to introduce the easing of visitor restrictions announced by Nicola Sturgeon this week.
On Monday the first minister increased the limit on indoor visits from 30 minutes to four hours. Under the new guidance, visitors will be allowed to hold hands with residents as long as they stick to rules to stop the infection spreading.
The easing of measures will not apply in areas in the west central belt where restrictions are still stricter than elsewhere in the country.
Crucially, the new rules can only be implemented if a care home has been declared coronavirus free for 28 days, has been risk assessed and is taking part in the workers’ testing programme.
The latest figures show just 8% of care homes had a current coronavirus case. The data also indicated that 38,260 workers had been tested in the most recent week for which figures were available.
But it also noted that “a degree of staff” were declining tests.
‘If it is taking seven or eight days, you say: why bother?’
Dr Macaskill said it was a tribute to the “astonishing” commitment of staff that there was a “very high” proportion of staff being tested.
But he said: “One of the reasons we have seen a continued level of staff declining is because if you get tested on Monday and you don’t get your test back until the following Tuesday and then you are asked to get your test again on the Monday before your result is back, then you say: why bother?
“If it is taking seven or eight days to get your test back, then staff are naturally more reticent to getting their tests done when you haven’t got the previous test result.”
Dr Macaskill said previous issues around poor sick pay discouraging people to get tested “had been addressed”.
But when asked if test result delays were having an impact on the new visiting rules, he answered: “Yes. it does”.
We want to maximise the ability of family members to see each other.”
He added: “Some care homes say that the lack of robust return of testing for staff precludes them from being able to say that the care home is sufficiently safe for visiting.
“We want to maximise the ability of family members to see each other. We would like to see testing of staff increase to twice weekly.”
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the decision to ease restrictions on care home visits against the backdrop of rising cases and deaths.
The first minister said: “Recognising the stress and anxiety and trauma often suffered by families who can’t see frail loved ones in care homes, we’ve tried to put in place guidance to have as much visiting as possible on as safe a basis as possible.
“But I would stress, it is guidance, not a diktat that all care homes must have that level of visiting if there are risk factors.”
Efforts to ‘shorten turnaround time for tests’
She added it is not a “free for all” for care homes to allow more visiting, as they still have to meet safety requirements such as routine testing of staff and be free of Covid-19 for 28 days.
Ms Sturgeon also said work is continuing to transfer the processing of routine tests of health and social care staff from the UK-wide network to NHS Scotland.
She insisted there is no issue with capacity but efforts were being made to “try to shorten the turnaround time for tests”.