The Covid-19 guidance from government and regulators “has been a disgrace”, according to Rachel Beckett, chairman of Wellburn Care Homes, which runs 14 homes in the Northeast of England.

Beckett’s comments come amid the news that Britain's biggest care providers have been denied widespread Covid-19 tests, even as the disease has killed some of its residents. Beckett added that the government’s policy, which currently limits a care home to five tests, only if there is an outbreak, is “ludicrous.”

Government guidance published last week said it would “aim to offer more comprehensive testing” to the sector when “capacity increases”. In addition, Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, insisted last night, during the Downing Street daily updates, that testing during outbreaks at care homes was “happening now”.  

But some big care chains have said they still have not had a single test, with staff simply being advised to isolate suspected cases at the home. 

According to the Daily Mail, there have been at least 40 virus-related deaths in UK care homes, but the lack of testing means experts can’t know the true scale of the crisis or how many residents and workers already have the illness. The publication found that Four Seasons Healthcare (FSHC), which runs more than 200 homes, has had no tests for residents or staff, despite 13 residents dying from a suspected outbreak in just one week at the company’s Burlington House in Glasgow. Half of FSHC’s 13,000 staff are self-isolating, and two have tested positive in hospital. 

The UK’s largest care home group, HC-One, said none of the staff at its 320 homes had been tested. And similarly, Bupa Care Homes, which operates more than 120 sites, said no staff had had access to testing. 

One care worker, who works in a home for dementia sufferers, said: “None of us has been tested and we have very little access to protective equipment. We are like cannon fodder. We are being made to risk our lives and the lives of our loved-ones for £8.37 an hour.” 

Care workers in the UK have reported to Unison that they are at “breaking point” because of the lack of personal protective equipment available to them. Unison assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea reported last week that some care home managers are still not providing basic equipment such as face masks and hand sanitiser to staff as they support the vulnerable and elderly during the crisis.