Home carers will be included in routine weekly coronavirus testing for the first time from next week, the Government has announced.
Currently only care home residents and staff have qualified for regular testing for COVID-19, while the 750,000 home carers have not.
However on Friday the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that all homecare workers will now be offered weekly tests from Monday.
The expansion of testing to homecare workers is the next phase in the rollout of mass testing across the country, the DHSC said, and has been made possible by the huge increase in testing capacity in recent weeks.
Care providers welcomed the introduction of regular testing for home carers, despite the delay making them feel like like they were “a lower priority” than those in residential care.
Colin Angel, Policy Director, United Kingdom Homecare Association, said: “Until now, routine testing of asymptomatic homecare workers has not been available.
“This was largely supported by evidence from a prevalence survey, showing that transmission rates of the virus amongst homecare workers was similar to the general population. This is unlike the much higher prevalence rates amongst staff working in care homes.
“Even so, there has been a sense that people who used homecare services had received a lower priority from Government than those using residential care.
“It seems clear that a proportion of people infected with coronavirus do not develop symptoms themselves, but are able to pass it on to others, including the people they support.
“The availability of routine testing will be welcomed by many, particularly members of the public who have been concerned about the risk of transmission from careworkers visiting their home.
Kathryn Smith, chief executive at the Social Care Institute for Excellence, welcomed the expansion of carer testing. She said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been pointing out that social care isn’t just about care homes, vitally important though they are.
“This development will be really helpful to those in the care workforce who go into people’s homes: Regular testing will give them reassurance and confidence that they can do their jobs in a more secure manner.
“This will also provide relief to the people who access care at home – and to their relatives. This is a most welcome development”.
Helen Whately, Minister for Care, said: “Homecare workers have been doing an incredible job throughout the pandemic, caring day in and day out and going the extra mile to keep people they care for safe from Covid.
“As our testing capacity continues to expand, I’m glad we’re able to take this next step and make regular testing available to Homecare workers.
“Now, as well as having PPE, Homecare workers will be able to take a weekly test to check they don’t have Coronavirus.
“We now have the largest testing capacity in Europe, so we’re using this to protect those who are at greater risk if they catch Covid.”