The government has finally issued guidance that should allow disabled people in England who employ personal assistants (PAs) to continue to secure free COVID-19 tests for their staff, at least in some situations.
The confirmation that some free testing for employers of PAs will continue was made yesterday (Wednesday), less than two days before tomorrow’s ending of universal free testing (1 April).
A statement to MPs by health and social care secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday had suggested that at least some disabled people would probably have to start paying for tests for their PAs.
He said: “For [adult social care] services and hospices, DHSC will also continue to fund some regular asymptomatic testing for staff in periods of high prevalence.”
He made no mention of disabled people who employ their own PAs.
But yesterday, a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) that this continued funding for free testing of those without symptoms did include PAs employed by disabled people.
The spokesperson said: “Thanks to the success of our vaccines programme, we can transition towards managing Covid like other respiratory illnesses and, as set out in the Living with Covid Plan in February, from 1 April free testing will be focused on groups who are most at risk from the virus.
“Those previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable are now well protected after receiving their primary and booster vaccination doses and are no longer at substantially greater risk than the general population.
“Personal assistants will continue to be eligible for free symptomatic LFD* testing, as well as free twice weekly asymptomatic testing.”
But information published yesterday by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) stressed that free testing for adult social care staff (including PAs) without COVID-19 symptoms would only continue to be provided from 1 April “during periods of high prevalence” of the virus.
DHSC had not been able to clarify what it meant by “high prevalence” by noon today, suggesting shortly before the deadline that DNS should contact UKHSA, but it did confirm that the current state of COVID infections is seen as “high prevalence”.
The provision of free, twice-weekly asymptomatic testing for PAs appears to have been a recent addition to the government’s plans.
Earlier this month, a DHSC spokesperson told DNS: “After 1st April 2022, limited symptomatic testing will still be made available for a small number of at-risk groups – the government will set out further details on which groups will be eligible.”
UKHSA has said that updated guidance will be published “shortly” on how PAs can continue to access free tests.
Disabled artist-activist Jess Thom, who employs a team of eight PAs to provide her with 24-hour support, said the government’s announcements had been last-minute and “very chaotic”.
She said the announcement on free asymptomatic testing appeared to be “encouraging” but the way the government had approached COVID-19 policy in recent weeks, in which everything was “treated in isolation”, was “not surprising but dangerous”.
She said she had spent an “immense” amount of “time and energy” in the last couple of months trying to clarify whether she was still entitled to free testing and personal and protective equipment (PPE) for her PAs.
Another disabled campaigner, Fleur Perry, who is raising funds for a legal action against the government over its decision to end the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID-19 test, said: “We don’t have information on how to access these free lateral flows for our PAs, or what documentation our PAs might need in order to qualify.
“Giving us zero notice to perform crip admin tasks is placing unrealistic expectations on disabled employers, which may have a knock-on impact if people have been unable to order tests in advance due to the website not taking orders.”
*Lateral flow device
Picture: Jess Thom (left) and Fleur Perry
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