Hospices may close this winter without regular coronavirus tests for staff

Gabriella Swerling
·3-min read
The Prince of Wales meeting patient Maureen Russell, 97, during a visit to the Marie Curie Hospice in Cardiff and the Vale, Wales. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday February 21, 2020. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire - Ben Birchall/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales meeting patient Maureen Russell, 97, during a visit to the Marie Curie Hospice in Cardiff and the Vale, Wales. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday February 21, 2020. See PA story ROYAL Charles. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire - Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Hospices could be forced to close this winter unless staff receive weekly coronavirus tests, a charity has warned. 

Marie Curie said the lack of access to regular weekly testing, which is available to care home staff but not those in hospices, is compromising the care of dying people.

The charity is calling for hospice staff to be tested each week for coronavirus, warning that if this fails to happen, facilities risk having to close and the sector will be “paralysed”. 

Medical director Dr Sarah Holmes said asymptomatic spread between staff can be a problem "despite the most stringent of infection control measures".

She said: "While staff who are symptomatic or have a family or household member who is symptomatic will still need to isolate, this still leaves us with a dilemma as we know that staff can remain asymptomatic and we wouldn't know.

"Every day that passes without a regular weekly testing regime in place for hospice staff puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk.

“The lack of testing could also end up paralysing not only Marie Curie hospices but other independent providers too."

She added: "We do not want people who need our help to decide not to come to one of our hospices because of fear of contracting the virus, or not being able to have any visitors."

The charity is concerned whether its hospices will be able to operate safely while supporting the increasing number of people who will need palliative care this winter.

It is also calling for weekly testing of a close relative or carer who will be able to provide support to the patient when they visit.

Regular weekly testing would help prevent staff without symptoms unknowingly spreading Covid-19 and ensure staff levels are sufficient to keep hospices fully open.

Marie Curie said the different approaches to testing across the UK is leading to confusion and means asymptomatic staff are not always identified early.

In some areas all staff are tested when there is an outbreak, but in others only those with symptoms are tested, it said.

The charity fears that concerns about contracting the virus, a lack of testing among staff and visiting restrictions, will mean people needing help will be reluctant to use hospices.

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman, said: "We are hugely grateful for the work hospices have undertaken during this challenging period, and we have made up to £200 million available to support them this year.

"Anyone working in healthcare with symptoms can access testing as a priority, but we must target testing capacity at the areas that need it most.

"In March we had capacity for 2,000 tests a day, by the end of this month it will be at 500,000 and we will continue to expand availability where we can."