Britain’s biggest care providers have been denied coronavirus tests even as the disease has ravaged some of their homes, it emerged last night.
Three major care home firms told the Mail no staff or residents had been tested despite a spate of deaths from suspected outbreaks.
One boss said it was ‘almost impossible’ to follow official advice and isolate sufferers without knowing who was infected.
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.
One care worker told how staff lived in fear of catching the virus and passing it to their families or those they look after.
The mother of three, 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.’
One group boss said GPs had stopped visiting care homes, adding: ‘You just feel completely abandoned.’
Government guidance published last week said it would ‘aim to offer more comprehensive testing’ to the sector when ‘capacity increases’.
But some big care chains say they have not had a single test, with staff simply being advised to isolate suspected cases at the home.
FSHC runs more than 200 homes, but has had no tests for residents or staff, with none at one home, Burlington House in Glasgow, where 13 residents died from a suspected outbreak in just one week.
Half its 13,000 staff are self-isolating, and two have tested positive in hospital.
MHA, which runs 222 sites, has had nine Covid-19 resident deaths.
None of its 6,000 residents or 8,000 staff have been tested. More than one in ten staff are isolating.
Colten Care, which has 21 nursing homes in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Sussex, has had three residents admitted to hospital for other health reasons.
While in hospital, however, they tested positive for Covid-19 and died, although their deaths are not thought to have been related to coronavirus.
The group still has no access to testing for its staff or other residents.
Staff at Shedfield Lodge Residential Care Home in Southampton are sleeping in caravans outside to protect their families after a resident died from coronavirus. They have not been given any tests.
The UK’s largest care home group, HC-One, said none of the staff at its 320 homes had been tested.
Bupa Care Homes, which operates over 120 sites, said no staff had had access to testing. Government guidance also states that if there is an outbreak in a home, a maximum of five residents can be tested.
Rachel Beckett, chairman of the Wellburn group, which has 14 homes across the North East, said this was ‘ludicrous’, adding: ‘The guidance from Government and regulators has been a disgrace.’
Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, said: ‘It feels like the entire care system is being swept under the carpet. How is it that the most vulnerable have found themselves at the bottom of the heap?’
Gavin Edwards, of the union Unison, said infected care homes were ‘the canaries in the mine’. But Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, insisted last night that testing during outbreaks at care homes was ‘happening now’.
She added: ‘They are in the prioritised list already, so the groups routinely tested – and have been ever since we have started responding to this incident – include potential outbreaks in care homes. That’s been going on from the start.’