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An email sent to care home owners from the city council said that the coronavirus Lateral Flow Tests (LFT), which deliver results in as little as 15 minutes, may be inaccurate. Sheffield’s local authority has asked Boris Johnson’s Government for technical data on the accuracy of the tests, but has yet to receive it. It comes as the UK is set to leave nationwide lockdown restrictions tomorrow, with Sheffield entering into Tier 3 restrictions.
Sky News obtained a copy of the email sent to care homes from the council, which warned them not to use the LFT’s until the technical data had been released.
Sara Storey, head of access and prevention at Sheffield City Council, said in the email: “Sheffield City Council cannot be assured of the accuracy of the LFT kits in high risk sensitive settings such as care homes.
“We are urgently seeking clarification on this matter from Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). In the meantime, we are advising providers not to use LFT kits in care home settings in relation to residents, staff or visitors until we can gain assurances of their effectiveness.
“Whilst we understand that this may be disappointing news for some people, the safety of residents, staff and visitors in care homes is of paramount importance to us.”
Following the email Nicola Richards, managing director of Palms Row Healthcare supported the council’s decision not to use the LFT kits as “the health and lives of our residents and staff should be our priority”.
Ms Richards, who’s company owns two nursing homes in Sheffield, added: “The government should wait for pilots to be complete before they are rolled out to care homes.
“This roll out is premature and could give false hope to families and residents. It could also put the lives of the most vulnerable at risk.
“Unfortunately it’s another example of confused messaging from national government.”
The LFT snub is a major blow to the Government’s rapid testing strategy, as the kit has been central to trials in major cities such as Liverpool.
In November, Liverpool saw more than 140,000 people tested with the LFT kits.
It is seen as essential to the UK’s coronavirus response as it highlights carriers of the virus who may not show symptoms.
LFT kits can also deliver results without the need of a laboratory, and the Government had hoped its widespread use would allow family members to visit care home residents.
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A DHSC spokesperson responded to Sky News over the LFT email, and said: “We understand the pain and very real consequences of loved ones being separated, and we are doing everything we can to allow people to come together and help improve the wellbeing of residents.
“We must also get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring staff and residents of all ages in care homes are safe and well, while preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
“We are trialling testing of visitors to people in care homes to give families more opportunities to reunite and evaluations from Public Health England and the University of Oxford show these tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community, including for asymptomatic people.”
Coventry is set to be the next region to undergo mass testing using the LFT kits, with their city council receiving 10,000 kits this week and around 30,000 weekly later on.
It comes as the UK nears the end of nationwide lockdown restrictions, with the country going into a stricter tier system on after December 2.
Sheffield will be placed into Tier 3 restriction, where household mixing is banned both indoors and outdoors, along with hospitality industries like pubs and restaurants forced to close.
As of November 26, 1,037 people tested positive for coronavirus in Sheffield, for a weekly infection rate of 177.3 cases per 100,000 people and 106th highest rate out of England’s 315 local authorities.
On Monday the UK record a further 12,330 cases of the virus along with 215 deaths.
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