Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that all care home residents and staff in England can now be tested for COVID-19 "whether they have symptoms or not".

A network of mobile testing units is now travelling around the country to reach care homes, police stations, prisons and other sites where there is demand for testing. This network is expected to reach over 70 units by the first weekend in May. Matt Hancock announced: “Building on successful pilots, we will be rolling out testing of all asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England. This will mean anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not."

He also confirmed that there are currently more than 40 drive-through testing sites across the country and 25,000 home testing kits will be available for ordering every day, by the end of this week.

The announcement came after new figures released from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed there were 4343 COVID-19 deaths in care homes in England from 10 to 24 April. The regulator’s death certificate data have now been incorporated into the figures on deaths by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which now show the steep rise in care home deaths.

As well as reporting the number of coronavirus deaths in care homes in England, the CQC said there has been a "significant rise in non-COVID-19 deaths" and added "this is of particular concern".

The Scottish Government said 354 adult care homes have reported more than one case of suspected COVID-19; there were 1616 registered COVID-19 deaths in Scotland as of 19 April with a third of these in care homes.

Latest figures from the ONS for Wales show there have been a total of 184 COVID-19 deaths in Welsh care homes.

Daily death figures will now include the number of deaths in care homes and in the community. Matt Hancock told the briefing on 29 April: “We’ve strengthened the rules around what happens in care homes and tightened infection control, also making testing available throughout the care sector. I think it is incredibly important as we’ve ramped up the availability of testing. We keep a close eye on it and I’m very glad we are now able to publish this daily data that will keep the focus on what is happening in care homes."

The Government's website was updated on 29 April to say its priority is testing patients to inform their clinical diagnosis but in England it is also testing:

  • all essential workers, including NHS and social care workers with symptoms

  • anyone over 65 with symptoms

  • anyone with symptoms whose work cannot be done from home

  • anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus and lives with any of those identified above.

Additionally, they are testing:

  • social care workers and residents in care homes (with or without symptoms) both to investigate outbreaks and, following successful pilots, as part of a rolling programme to test all care homes

  • NHS workers and patients without symptoms, in line with NHS England guidance.

On 3 May, personal care assistants were added to the list of essential workers.

This means anyone in one of these groups can find out whether they have the virus. Testing is most effective within three days of symptoms developing.

A Royal College of Nursing (RCN) UK-wide survey, which was conducted from 24 April to 28 April, found that non-NHS healthcare staff had less access to COVID-19 tests, along with temporary workers who were also less likely to be tested. This RCN survey of more than 22,000 health and care workers was conducted over the weekend before the Government’s announcement of testing expansion.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said testing policies have been vastly expanded since the survey was conducted. A DHSC spokesman said: “We’ve tested over 1.2 million people, including over 236,000 healthcare workers and remain determined to ensure that everyone who needs a test can get one. Health and care staff can access tests online or via their employer and can be swabbed in a drive through centre, one of our mobile testing units or order a test to use at home.”

More information is available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested.

Information on testing in Wales is available at: https://gov.wales/key-critical-workers-testing-policy-coronavirus-covid-19.

Information on testing in Scotland is available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-for-key-workers-in-Scotland/.

Information on testing in Northern Ireland is available at: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/coronavirus-national-testing-programme-essential-or-key-workers.

Last reviewed 5 May 2020