Elderly people living in sheltered housing are to be finally tested for coronavirus seven weeks after the government was asked to intervene.
Concerns have been raised that the elderly, along with those with learning and physical disabilities, who live in supported and sheltered accommodation have been overlooked during the COVID-19 crisis.
Different to care homes, sheltered housing is accommodation designed for older people and younger disabled people to permit them to live independently.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday evening that coronavirus testing was finally being rolled out for those groups.
He was responding to a question from Conservative MP Greg Clark, chair of the science and technology select committee.
The former business secretary said Hancock had pledged to help the elderly in sheltered accommodation three weeks ago on 8 June, but that nothing had yet been done.
Clark asked: "How can we have confidence in a speedy and targeted approach to testing and tracing if those of great vulnerability still can't be tested three weeks after a clear commitment was given to grip the matter?"
Hancock said the elderly and disabled in supported housing would be tested, but that it could take up to four more weeks.
He said: "We are now rolling out testing to the settings he describes.
“This will be rolled out over the coming three to four weeks to coincide with the time it'll take us to build that capacity to roll out.
"It is important that, first, testing is where it needs to be and secondly we do that on the basis of clinical need, which is why we went for supporting testing in nursing homes and residential homes first."
Clark had said: “Speed is of the essence in responding to the pandemic.
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“However, on 8 June, in the chamber, I asked my right honourable friend to intervene immediately to correct the situation that elderly people and people with physical and learning disabilities in supported and sheltered accommodation cannot get testing kits.
“Three weeks later, they still cannot.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “It is important that any older person who is worried about having coronavirus should be able to be tested quickly and the process should be made as easy as possible.
“Many people who live in sheltered housing will have care needs and it is vital that help is in place with the testing process itself.”
In the Commons on 8 June, Clark said to Hancock: “It is true that older people and workers in care homes are able to get tests, but that is not the case for people who live or work in retirement villages and supported accommodation.
“Will he intervene to correct that anomaly immediately, so that we can protect all our older and vulnerable people?”
Hancock replied: “Yes, of course, that is taken into account in the clinical decision on the order of priority for testing. My right honourable friend makes a very important point that I will ensure is taken away and looked at, to check this for people in those settings outside formal social care.
“I will ensure that that is properly looked into.”
During the daily Downing Street COVID-19 briefing on 8 June, Hancock promised to extend coronavirus testing to all adult care homes.
He said: “I can announce that from today, all remaining adult care homes in England will be able to order the whole care homes testing service for residents and staff.
“This service will benefit residents and staff in over 6,000 more care homes.”
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