Testing and tracing updates

17 February 2021

Testing updates

Below you will find the latest information on coronavirus testing for housing providers.

We are aware that access to testing has improved for some front-line services but that blockages remain. Please continue to feed in any access issues to us so that we may press government for improvements.

We also encourage members to engage with key decision makers at local level who can help target testing on the ground and feed back to government. This includes directors of public health and local authorities that will identify providers in their data returns.

See below for information on:

  • Accessing a coronavirus test
  • Weekly testing for homecare workers
  • Extra Care and Supported Living settings
  • Community testing rollout
  • Employer lateral test scheme (including webinars starting 1 February 2021)
  • Test and trace system 

Accessing a coronavirus test

The government has expanded the eligibility criteria for coronavirus testing. All the tests currently available are diagnostic tests, designed to find out whether someone currently has coronavirus. Antibody tests, to find out whether someone has previously had the virus, are not yet widely available. Full details of who can access a test and how to order one can be found on the government's website, the key points are:

  • Everyone in England with coronavirus symptoms can now get tested.
  • Essential workers and their family members will still take priority when it comes to allocating tests. This includes frontline workers in supported housing schemes.
  • All NHS and social care staff and care home residents can get tested whether or not they have symptoms.
  • Whole-scheme testing is being repeated in care homes.
  • Whole-scheme testing will be extended to some extra-care schemes and supported living schemes where there is a clinical need. The preparatory round of testing in these settings is underway and providers should receive notification to register for it in October.

We have heard from our members that the ease of accessing tests and the length of time it takes for results to come back varies across regions, with some organisations now finding it relatively easy to get symptomatic staff tested and others still facing substantial backlogs. To share your feedback, please email us.

Weekly testing for homecare workers

Care workers working for CQC-registered providers and looking after people in their own homes, will be able to test themselves on a weekly basis from 23 November 2020. This will soon be extended to unregistered providers. We have again pressed the government to extend regular testing to all supported housing providers on this basis.

Extra Care and Supported Living settings

Our members who run care homes, and have therefore been able to access testing for staff without symptoms, have started to report substantial numbers of positive test results even among asymptomatic staff. Because of this we have been making the case to government testing of asymptomatic people should be expanded to include frontline workers in supported housing settings.

Asymptomatic whole-scheme testing for staff and residents in extra-care housing and supported living settings at most clinical risk is underway.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will deliver tests to Extra Care and supported living settings that meet the following criteria:

  • A closed community with substantial facilities shared between multiple people.
  • Where most residents receive the kind of personal care that is Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulated (rather than help with cooking, cleaning and shopping).

They will also deliver tests to services delivering home care for them to distribute to their staff (see above). An invitation to register for testing will be sent to providers via the email address given in data returns to local authorities. DHSC will only register providers identified by their local authority so you are advised to contact your local authority for clarity on whether you can be registered and if you feel your service was missed off the data return.

DHSC is running a series of webinars for providers on the testing process.

We are making the case to government that the DHSC and local public health directors should consider the full range of supported housing services when deciding which schemes to prioritise for testing, including short-term complex needs services with shared facilities, as well as long-term schemes for older and disabled people.

Community testing rollout

Rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus is being made available, with eligibility for the community testing programme expanded to cover all 314 lower-tier local authorities.

Local authorities will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown. Many are focusing on the testing of critical workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons. See our guidance on interpreting the critical worker criteria.

We recommend supported housing members make contact with their local public health teams to make the case for prioritising their residents and staff.

Organisations that wish to use the Community Testing route should direct their employees to the DHSC postcode checker which launched on 10 February.

Employer lateral flow test scheme

Businesses and public sector organisations with more than 50 employees can also join a government scheme to test workers without symptoms who cannot work from home. Rapid testing in the workplace, using lateral flow tests, aims to help protect those at highest risk and provide vital information to help inform further rollout of the rapid testing technology in future. Tests are free until the end of March 2021. 

You can apply for this programme here, or contact P-and-PSector@dhsc.gov.ukwith the following information:

  • Company name
  • Contact and email address
  • Industry sector
  • Company registration number
  • Size of company

There are also webinars you can attend for further information:

Test and trace system

The government published guidance on 27 May 2020 about how its ‘Test and Trace’ service would operate, including guidance for employers on how to support workers who have to self-isolate.

The service went live on 1 June 2020 and is designed to:

  • Provide testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus.
  • Get in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had.
  • Alert those contacts, where necessary, and notify them if they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

The government Test and Trace app is available to download.

Employers should:

  • Encourage their staff to order a test for coronavirus if they have symptoms.
  • Encourage employees to comply with notifications to self-isolate and support them to do so.

This guidance does not include healthcare workers and others working in health and social care settings, who should follow separate guidance on when to self-isolate and when to return to work.

We know that some supported housing members are concerned about the potential impact of the Test and Trace system on their services. Especially the disruption that could be caused if one team member's test result shows they have coronavirus and they have been in contact with other team members running an essential service. We are reporting impacts on service delivery to government.

Contact tracers should be following up with people who are ‘close contacts’ of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, meaning someone who:

  • Spends significant time in the same household.
  • Is a sexual partner.
  • Has been within one metre of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus for one minute, has been coughed on or had skin-to-skin contact.
  • Has been within two metres of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus for more than 15 minutes.
  • Has travelled in a vehicle with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Useful links

Who to speak to

Suzannah Young, Policy Officer