A social care leader has spoken of the growing alarm over the high rate of false positive Covid-19 test results that’s piling pressure on struggling care homes.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, revealed a survey of members had shown that nearly a third of care homes had experienced a test which had been a false positive in the previous fortnight.
Another problem adding to the rising anxiety, confusion and frustration in the sector was the fact that results were often too slow in coming back, with delays up to a week not uncommon, he claims.
Mr Kreft is so concerned about the situation that he has launched a new drive to Shield Social Care and Save Lives This Winter.
At the heart of the campaign is the call for the testing "shambles" to be sorted out so that the virus can be kept at bay as Wales enters a two-week firebreak national lockdown.
The survey by Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent providers, revealed that with 29.6% of care homes across Wales had experienced positive results that re-tested as negative.
In reality, care bosses say the rate of false-positives far exceeds figures from the Welsh Government Technical Advisory Group which forecasts nine false tests in every 1,000 tests.
On top of that the survey showed 28.2% of care homes had waited for at least one result after seven days while more than half (52.1%) had experienced at least one inconclusive result.
Public Health Wales said they were unable to provide an answer to a Freedom of Information request to confirm the number times a positive test had been re-tested and found to be negative.
Mr Kreft said: “From the very beginning we’ve fought for a comprehensive and effective testing regime and now, many months on, care homes still face unacceptable delays for results which threaten the safety of staff and residents.
“Our own survey raises serious questions about the validity and reliability of current results with almost one in three homes experiencing false-positives, forcing healthy staff and residents to unnecessarily self-isolate.
“Understandably, it’s causing growing alarm, confusion and frustration among our members who have responded heroically to the challenges of saving lives during this pandemic.
“We are renewing our calls to the Welsh Government to tackle this situation with urgency as we head into winter with many homes already in lockdown.
“It is critical testing results are delivered fast to not only prevent the spread of this disease, but also so asymptomatic positive cases can be retested swiftly so homes do not face unnecessary restrictions or staffing shortages.
“This is not just about protecting social care. the vulnerable people we look after and our magnificent frontline staff.
“It’s also about the safe discharge of people from hospital into care homes so that they are safe and that the NHS can function without being overwhelmed this winter.
“People in the sector have worked tirelessly to keep this virus at bay. We stand with the NHS on the front line ready to do our bit,
“But we must be given the necessary support so we can engage the sector and underpin the efforts of the NHS.”
Among the concerned members is Tony Lovell, who owns Llwyndyrys Residential Home in Llechryd, Ceredigion.
He said one of the problems care homes faced was the length of time it took to receive the results of the first Covid-19 test from the UK’s Lighthouse Laboratory diagnostic facility, which could be anything up to six days.
After this, many care homes had found these results to be “false-positives” upon retesting with their local health board, he added.