The regime of weekly tests required for care workers has been thrown into disarray as pressure on the system has meant results are taking up to ten days to come through.
There are now warnings that standards will suffer as infected workers potentially pass the virus on to colleagues and absence levels soar, including for preventative self-isolation.
And with colleges and universities poised to return in coming weeks it is feared the situation will only deteriorate.
Almost half of Scotland’s 4,200 deaths from Covid-19 happened in the country’s care homes, as the virus took hold in the early months of the pandemic. The situation has been brought under control recently, but the warning from Scottish Care will sound alarm bells for authorities.
“Over the last few weeks it has become increasingly evident that there has been both a disruption and delay of the weekly staff testing regime that is required of care homes,” the body warned in a statement.
Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) forums, phone calls and emails from care homes have all highlighted delays in test results coming through and “inconclusive” tests being carried out.
Since the second week of August, just after schools returned, the wait for test results has increased from one to three days to around five to six days, and even seven to ten days in the final week of last month.
“This timeframe can be connected to the opening of schools across the country which saw a dramatic increase in the request for tests from families whose children were displaying Covid symptoms,” the statement adds.
“These circumstances mean that staff are currently in the position of being asked to undertake another test while not having received the results of their previous test.
“This understandably has generated a lack of faith in the integrity, resilience and rigour of the national testing programme, which in turn puts at risk their commitment to undergoing tests.”
Concerns have already been raised that Scotland’s testing regime has been struggling to cope since the return of schools. This has seen more youngsters being tested for symptoms amid concerns among parents. As demand soars for tests, Scots have been directed to centres in England and even Northern Ireland.
The weekly testing regime in care homes has been viewed as “critical” in bringing the virus under control, protecting residents from staff who may be unknowingly carrying the virus.
“The impact will be felt also in staffing levels and sustaining service delivery as infected workers will pass on the virus to colleagues and staff absence levels will rise,” Scottish Care added.
“In addition, a robust testing regime is a key requirement of enabling family members to visit their relatives in care homes.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s dedicated care home workers are on the frontline of our national pandemic response and their work is hugely valued. It is crucial that they are able to access testing with results provided in a timely manner.
“Care home staff tests are processed through the UK government’s testing system and the Cabinet Secretary for Health has written to all care home managers across Scotland to assure them that she has raised this as a significant concern with the UK government.
“We are also working with Scottish health boards to put in place alternative arrangements for routine testing of staff.
“Long waits for care home test results are unacceptable.”