Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out a package of measures aimed at combating the virus in care settings at today’s daily briefing at 10 Downing Street.
The plans included increased testing and improved access to protective equipment as well as measures designed to help social care workers enjoy similar benefits to NHS staff.
But he came under fire for not reacting to the need for help in care homes and hospices sooner, as further deaths of residents were reported.
Care provider Methodist Homes (MHA) said it was forced to spend £200,000 on face masks from a trusted private supplier because it cannot depend on the Government’s allocation processes.
MHA chief executive Sam Monaghan said: “We are almost four weeks in now, and MHA area managers are still driving every night picking up stock from one home, taking it to another, reallocating based on confirmed and suspected cases, but of course that’s neither the best nor the most sustainable approach.
“We just need adequate and consistent supplies.”
And Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel delivered 40 locally-made visors to a hospice run by charity Sue Ryder as he described shortages in the sector as “embarrassing”.
He said: “I delivered 40 pieces of PPE equipment to Wheatfield’s Hospice in my constituency. The visors were provided not by the Government but by a local party member who has been working in his workshop, trying to supply where he can.
“There are many people, trying where they can to fill the void left by the Government, providing protection to those in our hospice and care sector as well as GPs and the wider NHS.”
He added: “It is completely embarrassing that it is down to individuals and small charities like Otley Maker Space to provide potentially life saving equipment to the care sector. The Government must make this a national priority and do whatever it takes to repurpose our manufacturing and supply every essential worker.”
But Mr Hancock said a supply network of “unprecedented scale” would help get personal protective equipment to care home staff.
Some 12,868 have now died from coronavirus in hospital, with at least 817 of those in Yorkshire.
Mr Hancock said the UK is now “testing regularly NHS staff across the board” as of last weekend.
He added: “We have started also testing social care staff, 4,100 social care staff have already been referred for tests.”
Mr Hancock said: “Over the Easter weekend we had some spare capacity because the number of people coming forward for testing was not as high … which means that we can now expand testing not only to staff in social care but also within social care settings.
“The previous rule had been that once five people in a social care setting had tested positive, then others with symptoms were deemed to have coronavirus because it was highly likely to be coronavirus.
“We will now ensure that everybody who has symptoms gets tested.
“And the critical change is that those leaving hospital will now be tested and they will be put into isolation until those test results come through – and if the test results come through positive then they will be held in isolation to make sure that they protect those currently in the care home.”
Mr Hancock denied suggestions that the lives of younger people had been prioritised at the expense of those in care homes and that people had died unnecessarily.
The Health Secretary said: “No, neither of those things is the case.”
He said one of the first things discovered about Covid-19 was that the elderly were badly affected by the disease.
“Therefore it was clear that, especially for care settings supporting older people – and it’s also true for care settings that support people of working age – we were going to have to have a particular focus,” he said.
Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean said there was a “huge question” about how to protect care homes which do not yet have cases.