* From left, Old Vicarage carer Arfona Hughes, residents Jill Lidgett, 84, and 89-year-old Pat Preston and carer Tammy Callaghan hold up a banner outside the home which says in Welsh “Come on Wales – we need testing.”
A Llangollen care home owner has put out an urgent personal plea to Wales’s Health Minister to extend coronavirus testing to her residents and staff.
The Welsh NHS is testing both groups who have symptoms but not those who do not.
That is not the case in England, where all residents and staff will now be covered after the policy changed on Tuesday.
But Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford said there would be “no value" to providing tests to everybody in the country’s care homes and that to do so would "divert capacity".
Bethan Mascarenhas, who runs The Old Vicarage care home in Llangollen strongly disagrees and says the lack of testing is creating “huge levels of anxiety” there.
And she has today sent out a strongly-worded letter to Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething AM.
In it she says: “Residents, staff and I are very concerned about the disparity between Wales and England on the decision to test all residents and staff in care homes whether they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not.
“The impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic is weighing heavily on the well-being of all staff and residents, each worried that they may be carrying the virus and unintentionally spreading it - with fatal consequences.
“Testing is the only way to know if we are carrying the virus and would allow us to act to prevent further spread.
“Providing testing to all care homes and staff may be largely rhetoric on the part of the UK government. However, both residents and staff listen to the news and are at loss to understand why the same opportunity that is available to people, living 10 minutes away over the border, is not being offered to them.
“Daily reports of deaths in care homes and reports that care homes are the most dangerous place to be in creates huge levels of anxiety for residents who are fragile and currently unable to have visits from relatives who are also understandably concerned.”
Ms Mascarenhas goes on to explain how one of her elderly residents, who was being treated for a known and diagnosed infection, ended up being taken to hospital by ambulance after developing a cough, different to that of Covid-19, and a high temperature.
She says: “There is now a high risk of her contracting COVID-19 with a little hope of recovery. This could have been avoided with testing.
“The care staff are also on the frontline. They have families and responsibilities but come to work each day.
“NHS staff are rightly lauded for their dedication, but care staff seems to have be forgotten and unsupported. Testing them would raise their status and give them some peace of mind while they continue to provide a demanding and dangerous service.”
Ms Mascarenhas attaches to her letter some comments from her residents about the situation. These say:
* ‘We're the United Kingdom and it should be inclusive to all, not breaking countries up with their responses, we should be united in our approach together' - resident aged 99.
‘We need to know what positive things they are putting together for the people, why is testing not one of them and why? We don’t want to be left out. We are writing to you, to ask you to protect our futures. We must be kept up to date and informed’ - Bill Gosson aged 89
* ‘Please think about us, we want this done for our safety. If we are doing our part by staying indoors and isolating ourselves from our families and community you should be doing your part by protecting us. All our relatives are anxious to know what’s going on and what our status is and if there’s a way to help prevent the spread’ - Joan Fell aged 96
* ‘If every home in England is being tested, then it’s being classed as essential – are we not essential too? Why are you choosing not to test? Is it financial? Can you not afford it? Is our safety not seen as valuable enough? Please don’t leave it until it’s too late, if we know we have confirmed cases, we can do something about it – Jill Lidgett aged 84
* ‘I feel very isolated from my family, they are all very worried for me as they don’t know for definite how I am without testing. I myself am regularly ill but with the pandemic, every time I am ill it raises concerns for them not knowing my status or if it may be COVID-19, everyone gets upset and worried about the unknown. Please test us all in Care Homes’ - Iola Roberts aged 86
‘* I’m very angry – why should we be left out? We are not different, we are all people, all the same. It’s awful knowing that a care home 10 minutes away from us are able to test everyone and we are left here not knowing. I love my life; I have never been so happy as I am here in this home – I have a life to live and I deserve to have that protected. I want our wonderful staff and their family members protected too. We need the same treatment as England, we need to know!’ - Amy Lawton aged 98.
‘* Our duty of care means we need to know whether we might be putting our residents at risk by bringing the virus into the home. The Health Minister has a duty of care towards us to make it possible to test, so we can put residents’ minds to rest and be able to provide the safest care possible’ - Staff member.
Clwyd South AM Ken Skates said: "Bethan has been in touch with my office and I'm aware she has written to the Health Minister on this important issue.
"I completely understand the anxiety residents and staff in care homes are experiencing during this crisis and will be raising the matter with the Welsh Government on behalf of everyone at The Old Vicarage and the other care homes in our area."