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COVID-19 antibody tests to create safer working conditions for care workers
- 4,500 staff across Country Court and Nellsar Care will be offered testing after the groups struck deals with test supplier Avonchem
- Testing will enable care home bosses to identify staff who have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the virus which causes COVID-19
- Care home bosses say the results will help them implement safer living and working environments, while continuing to observe all Government safety guidance
Thousands of UK care home staff will be able to access free tests for COVID-19 antibodies after two major care home chains agreed new deals with Avonchem, a leading UK supplier of diagnostic test kits and chemicals.
Avonchem announced that it will supply 4,900 COVID-19 IgG/IgM finger prick tests to Country Court and 1,500 tests for Nellsar Care, enabling both chains to offer the option of testing to every employee.
The tests, which are manufactured by US firm CTK Biotech and cost less than £10, are approved by MHRA and CE marked. They must be administered by health professionals and can produce results within 15 minutes.
Antibody testing is seen as key to being able to ease lockdown measures because it can help identify people who have previously been exposed to the virus.
For example, the information could help implement safety measures such as pairing proportions of residents who likely have antibodies with staff who have not been exposed to the virus, and having staff with antibodies caring for residents without.
While having antibodies is not proven to guarantee immunity against the virus, it could also enable staff to feel more confident working in care homes where thousands of residents and employees have died with COVID-19 during the ongoing crisis.
Country Court said it had offered tests to each of its 3,000 staff on a voluntary basis, with 99% opting to be tested, and it will likely also explore the possibility of testing residents in the near future. It said the tests supplied by Avonchem will be used in conjunction with the Government’s testing programme for health and care workers.
Al-Karim Kachra, Finance Director of Country Court, said: “By using antibody testing kits we can better understand the spread of the virus and use this to implement safety measures in the homes, such as using ratios of staff with and without antibodies on each shift. Everyone understands that people should not use the result of this test to go against PHE or government guidelines, but as there is a lot of anxiety nationally and we feel this has helped to alleviate some of this within our teams.”
Nellsar Care is rolling out a programme under which tests will be offered to all of its 1,000 employees and 500 residents, starting with those who have already had a positive swab test. Staff who test positively will not be treated as immune or exposed to additional risk, but the results will help staff and residents feel safer and understand whether they have already been exposed to the virus.
Martin Barrett, Managing Director of Nellsar Care, said: “By clearly identifying the current reach of the virus through my staff teams and residents, we can plan more effectively, we can keep people safer and we can show that we care for their well-being. We know that the Government agree that rolling out antibody tests is vital, but having seen the challenges evident with swab testing in a timely manner, I felt that it was my duty of care to act first. My staff risk-assess all situations and the feedback is clearly that they feel less at risk knowing if they, their colleagues and the people they support know whether they have antibodies or not.”
James Gray, Managing Director of Avonchem, said: “Antibody testing is not a silver bullet but it can help track the spread of the virus, which is especially important in settings like care homes which continue to be on the front line of this crisis. It is brilliant to see the UK Government making antibody testing more widely available, and whilst discussions continue to support this national rollout, I am delighted we are already supporting care homes who immediately require this testing.”