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Welsh Government defends testing policy after referral to human rights watchdog

Health minister Vaughan Gething said the advice and evidence was that there ‘wasn’t a value’ in testing people who were not symptomatic.

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Vaughan Gething (Ben Birchall/PA)

Vaughan Gething (Ben Birchall/PA)

Vaughan Gething (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Welsh Government has defended its policy on coronavirus testing in care homes after it was reported to the human rights watchdog.

The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales reported the Welsh Government to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over delays to testing in care homes.

But Wales’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, said the advice and evidence was that there “wasn’t a value” in testing people who were not symptomatic.

It comes after the EHRC said last week that it was “deeply concerned” about breaches of older people’s human rights across the UK during the pandemic.

The watchdog said it is considering the use of all its powers to protect their rights both now and following the pandemic.

Ruth Coombs, EHRC head of Wales, said on Thursday that the organisation is working with the Older People’s Commissioner and other partners representing the interests of older people.

She added: “We remain deeply concerned about serious potential breaches of older people’s human rights during this pandemic.

“The slow response by Welsh Government to testing residents and staff in care homes, discharge of Covid-19-positive older people from hospital into care homes, examples of inappropriate blanket healthcare decisions on issues such as Do Not Attempt Resuscitation notices, and the lack of sufficient PPE for care workers have contributed to considerable distress, lack of confidence that their rights will be protected and ultimately to loss of life.

“We are working closely with the Older People’s Commissioner and other partners representing the interests of older people, and are considering the use of all our powers to protect their rights now and following the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Helena Herklots, said she had concerns that the rights of older people are not being protected in care homes.

In a statement, she added: “The situation we have seen in our care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a tragedy, and I have concerns that older people’s rights may not have been sufficiently protected, in these settings and across health and social care more widely.

“It’s crucial that these concerns, and the concerns raised by older people, their families and care home staff throughout Wales, are investigated and I believe that the Equality and Human Rights Commission would be best placed to examine and scrutinise the action taken by the Welsh Government, as part of a wider inquiry that looks at older people’s experiences and the action that has been taken across the UK.

“The rights of older people must be at the heart of the action and decisions about what happens in our care homes and I hope that the Welsh Government would welcome external scrutiny from the EHRC, which will help to ensure that the rights of older people are protected, both now and in the future.”

But Mr Gething told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The advice and the evidence that we had at the time was that people who weren’t symptomatic, there wasn’t a value in testing them.

“We changed the approach that we took on testing people who were leaving hospital on April 22 onwards.”

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

The Welsh Government has now expanded its testing programme so that every care home in Wales will have access to testing and will be able to order online testing kits for residents and staff.

Previously only residents and staff in care homes with confirmed cases of coronavirus were tested, as were homes with more than 50 beds, anyone being discharged from hospital into a care home, or anyone moving into a care home from the community.

Testing in Wales had been more restrictive than in England, where all care home residents and staff have been eligible for testing regardless of symptoms since the end of April.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said at the time that there was no “clinical value” in testing everyone where no-one was displaying symptoms.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

The Office for National Statistics said that, up to May 1, there were 532 deaths involving Covid-19 among care home residents in Wales, the lowest regional total across England and Wales.

Phil Crean, whose mother Joyce died in a care home after showing symptoms of coronavirus, said his family would never have allowed her to be placed in the home if they had heard that there had been Covid-19 cases there.

Mr Crean, from Newport, South Wales, added: “It’s an absolute disgrace, isn’t it?

“It’s throwing sheep to the wolves, it is as simple as that.”

PA