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Carers 'devastated' at end of free Covid tests amid record infections

Charities have expressed concern for carers, as the government fails to provide them with free Covid testing.

A coronavirus lateral flow test

Free tests are now only available for medical and social care professionals. Image: comedynose/Flickr

Charities have condemned the government for halting free Covid testing for at-home carers, amid record levels of infection and rapidly increasing cost of living.

The government will continue to provide free asymptomatic testing for medical and social care professionals but ended free testing for the general public on April 1 as part of a strategy to “live with coronavirus”.

Some professional carers will be eligible for free testing, but charities have criticised the lack of provision for informal carers looking after friends or family.

“For many carers and their families, this will be devastating news”, said Miriam Martin, chief executive of the charity Caring Together.

“It has rightly been recognised it is essential that health and care staff have continued free access to testing. And it is equally essential those people looking after family members and friends day-in, day-out have the same access to testing as part of the measures to keep the people they care for safe.

“For this access to free tests to be taken away from them makes no sense.”

“As we learn to live with Covid that we withdraw free testing – universally… if it’s not needed any more, but we focus those resources on the people that need it most. And that’s what we’re doing” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

“We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and that’s because of decisions that we’ve taken as a country.”

The end of free Covid testing comes as cases in England have reached an all-time high. An estimated 4.1 million people – one in thirteen ­– contracted the virus in the week ending on the March 26, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

​​”The government’s decision to end free lateral flow tests have left disabled people and their at-home carers in an increasingly vulnerable position” said the charity Revitalise, who provide respite breaks for disabled people and their carers.

“This change risks further reducing any remaining confidence disabled people and carers may have in going out into their communities, at a time when they have been among the most isolated and affected in terms of mental health during the pandemic, because of their need or wish to shield.”

It also comes at the start of the cost of living crisis, as taxes and prices continue to increase faster than wages and benefits. Martin said that carers and their families are among the hardest hit by rising costs.

“Many carers are already being faced with impossible dilemmas around their spending on essentials, to now add the question of whether to pay for tests or not is yet another bitter blow for the thousands of carers who are exhausted and at breaking point, particularly when coupled with a rise of just £2 a week in carers allowance for those able to receive it”, she explained.

Caring Together are also calling for “urgent clarity” on whether parent carers of children with “complex health needs” will have access to testing, as the guidance only covers adult social care staff.

“The Government regularly repeats that it values carers and the vital role they provide to the people they care for”, added Martin. 

“It is time that their actions match their words.”

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