It is the latest blow for care homes, which are already struggling after a faulty test was recalled.
The Government has abandoned a pledge to regularly test all people in care homes from this summer, according to reports.
Ministers vowed regular Covid-19 testing of almost two million residents and staff would begin on 6 July, with staff tested weekly and residents every 28 days.
In a leaked memo to local authority chiefs, seen by The Sunday Times, Professor Jane Cummings, the Government’s adult social care testing director, said “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being altered because of “unexpected delays”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed there were issues with “asymptomatic re-testing”.
The problems relate to a combination of factors, including a restraint on the ability to build testing kits, already announced issues with Randox swab kits, overall lab capacity, and greater than anticipated return rate of care home test kits.
Care homes are able to order test kits from the Government on 31 August, but Prof Cummings admitted that the system for recording tests was “unnecessarily burdensome”.
The newspaper also reports that another memo sent to health officials last week said that nearly two-thirds of care homes had not yet had a round of asymptomatic testing, and only about a third of homes had been sent testing equipment.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said the decision to ditch the pledge was an “utter disgrace”. She added: “Don’t they think our vulnerable people and care home staff deserve better than this?”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “So on day govt ‘paused’ shielding for vulnerable people & day after PM halted easings; No 10 now briefing shielding for over 50s could be introduced, ministers failing on pledge to test care home residents & staff.
“With infections rising, people deserve better than this.”
Labour’s Liz Kendall, Leicester West MP, tweeted on Sunday: “Weekly testing of care home residents & staff is critical to saving lives.”
“A total shambles, ministers must get a grip,” she added.
Test and trace in trouble
The move will throw the Government’s test and trace programme into further chaos. Analysis of official figures shows that Serco and Sitel, the two outsourcing giants paid £192 million to run the scheme, are only reaching 52% of the contacts named by infected patients.
Professor Sheila Bird, the former vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society, described the figures as “extraordinary”.
Last week, Andrew Knight, chief executive of Care UK, Britain’s largest independent social care provider said weekly testing of care staff and monthly testing of residents would have to be halted for at least five weeks in the majority of Care UK’s 114 homes.
It came after the Government withdrew home-test kits by Randox sent to care homes, saying that some batches were “not up to standard”.
Meanwhile, care provider MHA, the largest not-for-profit care home group in England, admitted it was having to further delay the long-awaited resumption of family and friends’ visits for residents because of the testing blunder.
A DHSC spokesperson said they do not comment on leaked documents, but added: “It is completely wrong to suggest care homes were deliberately deprived of testing resources and any care home resident or member of staff with symptoms can immediately access a free test.
“We continue to issue at least 50,000 tests a day to care homes across the country and prioritise tests for higher-risk outbreak areas.”