“Testing has been available to care homes right from the very beginning”

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Press Briefing [25:20]

May 20, 2020

Facts

At a coronavirus press briefing, Oliver Dowden said that “testing has been available to care homes right from the very beginning”.

Tests were available to any care home resident or staff member who requested one only from late April

While some testing may have been available, government guidance previously implied there would be little need for it. 

As late as March 13th 2020, government guidance claimed it was “very unlikely” people in care homes would contract the virus. 

This advice was withdrawn on March 13th 2020, and replaced with new guidance about what to do in the event of an outbreak at a care home or other supported living.

Testing of discharges from hospitals into care homes was introduced only on 15 April, announced by Matt Hancock at the daily briefing. This meant that hundreds of potential carriers could have been reintroduced to care homes before then.

The finding of the House of Commons Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees in the report Coronavirus: lessons learned to date is devastating. It found that: “In order to free acute hospital beds in anticipation of the first wave of the pandemic, NHS providers were instructed to urgently discharge all medically fit patients as soon as it was clinically safe to do so, and care home residents were not tested on their discharge from hospital.” 

The report went on to state: "There were several factors during the early period of the pandemic which meant that it was not possible to safely discharge patients to care homes and at the same time avoid outbreaks of covid-19 within those homes. Most obviously, a lack of testing capacity meant that patients were not prioritised for testing ahead of being discharged to care homes." 

Verdict

Oliver Dowden was one of a number of cabinet ministers who failed to tell the whole truth about testing.  There may have been some testing in care homes, but it was certainly not universally available until 15th April 2020. The Coronavirus: lessons learned to date contains devastating testimony about the lack of testing available to care home residents being discharged from hospitals before then. 

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