A social care leader has spoken of the growing alarm over the high rate of false positive Covid-19 test results that’s piling pressure on struggling care homes in Carmarthenshire.

Mario Kreft MBE, the chairperson of Care Forum Wales, revealed a survey of members had shown that nearly a third of care homes had experienced a test that had been a false positive in the previous fortnight.

Another problem adding to the rising anxiety, confusion and frustration in the sector was the fact that results were often too slow in coming back, with delays of up to a week not uncommon.

Mr Kreft is so concerned about the situation that he has launched a new drive to Shield Social Care and Save Lives This Winter.

At the heart of the campaign is the call for testing to be sorted out so that the virus can be kept at bay as Wales enters a two-week fire-break national lockdown.

The survey by Care Forum Wales, which represents nearly 500 independent providers, revealed that with 29.6 per cent of care homes across Wales had experienced positive results that re-tested as negative.

In reality, care bosses say the rate of false-positives far exceeds figures from the Welsh Government Technical Advisory Group which forecasts nine false tests in every 1,000 tests.

On top of that the survey showed 28.2 per cent of care homes had waited for at least one result after seven days while more than half (52.1 per cent) had experienced at least one inconclusive result.

Care Forum Wales says that Public Health Wales was unable to provide an answer to a Freedom of Information request to confirm the number times a positive test had been re-tested and found to be negative.

Mr Kreft said: “From the very beginning we’ve fought for a comprehensive and effective testing regime and now, many months on, care homes still face unacceptable delays for results which threaten the safety of staff and residents.

“Our own survey raises serious questions about the validity and reliability of current results with almost one in three homes experiencing false-positives, forcing healthy staff and residents to unnecessarily self-isolate.

“Understandably, it’s causing growing alarm, confusion and frustration among our members who have responded heroically to the challenges of saving lives during this pandemic.

“We are renewing our calls to the Welsh Government to tackle this situation with urgency as we head into winter with many homes already in lockdown.

“It is critical testing results are delivered fast to not only prevent the spread of this disease, but also so asymptomatic positive cases can be retested swiftly so homes do not face unnecessary restrictions or staffing shortages.

“This is not just about protecting social care; the vulnerable people we look after and our magnificent frontline staff.

“It’s also about the safe discharge of people from hospital into care homes so that they are safe and that the NHS can function without being overwhelmed this winter.

“People in the sector have worked tirelessly to keep this virus at bay. We stand with the NHS on the front line ready to do our bit,

“But we must be given the necessary support so we can engage the sector and underpin the efforts of the NHS.”

Equally concerned about the situation is Sanjiv Joshi, Director of the Caron Group, which owns 14 homes across South and Mid-Wales including Cartref Annwyl Fan Care Home, in Betws, near Ammanford.

According to Mr Joshi, the results are received anywhere from one to seven days. Most times it take too long and therefore reduces their usefulness.

He said: “In one home, we had two staff members isolating for a couple of days due to positive results. On their second test, they were negative and were able to return to work.

“Public Health Wales’ dilemma is the fact that the number of false negatives has also gone up.

“The disruption to our service is immense and will lead to homes being short-staffed. We cannot afford for staff to be isolating unnecessarily. Our care homes rely entirely on our staff being available to deliver this vital service.

“We would urge Public Health Wales to recommend three tests, in the case of a care staff member who is asymptomatic and tests positive. This would cause the least disruption for a care home and at the same time minimising the risk of transmission.”

Mr Joshi added: “I have already written to the Welsh Government to pursue point-of-care testing with emerging 15 minute tests. Care Homes need to be able to test everyone, every day, before entering.

“We could use our spare capacity to help people in the community. We have 24-hour manning and could feed test results into the local Tracing system within an hour.

“Wales could really have a world-leading Test Trace and Protect system. Covid-19 can be stopped dead in its tracks if we can isolate all contacts within the golden 48 hours.”