All residents and members of staff in care homes in England will have been tested for coronavirus by early June, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
He said the crisis had demonstrated the “imperative” need for reforming the sector – and local councils would now be required to carry out a daily review of all care homes in their area.
More than a third of England’s care homes have had cases of the virus.
The government is spending £600m to improve infection control in the homes.
There were 8,312 deaths in care homes in England and Wales where coronavirus was written on the death certificate up to 1 May, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Speaking during the government’s daily briefing, Mr Hancock said 64% of care homes in England have not had any cases.
Since late April, tests have been made available to any care home resident or staff member who requested one, whether they have coronavirus symptoms or not. Before that access to testing was more limited.
But Mr Hancock said that now every single resident and worker in English care home was being tested as a matter of routine – and that process would be completed by early June.
In Scotland, staff and residents are tested for Covid-19 if there is at least one confirmed case. Testing is also carried out in homes that belong to the same chain, and there is some sample testing in homes with no cases.
The government is assigning “clinical leads” to assess and advise all facilities in England, Mr Hancock added, and the NHS is helping to ensure that residents can see GPs via video link.
And local authorities are now being required to carry out daily reviews of the situation in care homes, while care homes have to supply “timely and accurate” data so that “local and national government can support and, where necessary, challenge and act”.
There are more than 15,000 residential and nursing homes providing support for older and disabled people in England, according to the Care Quality Commission.
One family’s story: ‘I believe an error was made at the beginning’
Peter Port’s father Thomas served in the Navy as a younger man. At 101, he was frail, but still determined – even in a pandemic.
“His reaction was: ‘I picked up survivors on the Arctic and Atlantic convoys – I survived all that so I’m going to survive this’,” Peter told the BBC.
But Thomas, who lived in a nursing home, died in April.
Peter believes coronavirus arrived in the home with a patient discharged from hospital, and is angry that more was not done to protect residents.
“I believe that… there was a fundamental error made at the beginning that care homes either weren’t going to suffer the coronavirus, because of their enclosed environment, or alternatively they didn’t really care about it or even think about it,” he said.
During the news conference, Mr Hancock revealed that is among those with a “loved one in a care home”, saying: “I know it’s been worrying.”
He added that the pandemic had acted as a “catalyst” for greater integration between health and social care services, claiming “too often in the past bureaucracy has held them apart”.
Responding to the government’s pledges, Ian Hudspeth of the Local Government Association said councils would “be reviewing their existing plans” to ensure that those “who rely on and work in social care are able to stay safe and well”.
However, he added that the government would need to address things that councils “do not have direct control over, such as the long-term future of the care home market”.
“In particular, we know that some of these new measures will need ongoing funding and resources beyond what has already been made available to councils and providers,” he said.
“It is good news that government has committed to working with councils on future funding support – this needs to be made available as soon as possible to help meet increasing demand and costs.”
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “bitterly regrets” the coronavirus crisis in care homes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused him of failing to get a grip on the issue.