Government pilot to give family members Covid tests for care home visits

14 November 2020, 00:23

Family members could be given Covid tests for safer care home visits
Family members could be given Covid tests for safer care home visits. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The government is launching a pilot programme to give family members access to regular Covid testing to enable safer care home visits.

Family members or friends of those living in care homes will be given regular testing to reunite them with their loved ones in care homes as a new pilot launches on Monday.

Care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon will pioneer the new system which will see a designated visitor given access to tests.

Around 20 care homes will be included in the trial before a wider rollout in December in time for Christmas.

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Regular testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident, combined with other infection control measures such as PPE.

The government say the scheme will support meaningful visits, including where possible indoor visits without a screen to take place while reducing the risk to care home residents, staff and visitors.

Visitors will be offered either PCR tests which they can do at home, or the new 30 minute rapid lateral flow tests which can be administered in person at care homes before a visit.

Each care home receiving lateral flow tests will receive a box of 675 initially and will be given access to more as required.

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It will take place in local authorities with lower transmission rates to ensure it can be done as safely as possible and care staff are being trained to ensure tests are administered safely and accurately.

If successful the testing will be rolled out in a phased way across the country.

The Alzheimer's Society praised ministers for recognising their calls over "the integral role that family carers play in supporting their loved ones with dementia" but worried the change in approach could have come too late for some.

The charity said: "We worry it is too little too late for the desperate families who have been waiting eight months to visit their loved ones.

"The promise of care home visitors being at the front of the line to get more ring-fenced tests as the new ones become available must fast become reality."

"We have to recognise the terrible mental health toll on people with dementia simply giving up on life as well as on the many thousands of grieving families who haven't been able to be with their loved ones in their last months, weeks and days, and who will never be able to get that precious time back."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how heart-breaking restricting visits to care homes has been, not only for residents, many of whom will feel disoriented and confused by the situation, but also their loved ones who aren’t able to simply hug each other to support them in this difficult time.

“Thanks to the expanding testing capacity we have in place we can now begin to trial a new way to allow safer visits to take place and prevent the spread of COVID-19. I must stress this is only possible if the public takes the right actions now to bring the transmission rate under control while national restrictions are in place.

“By respecting social distancing and staying at home as much as possible we will help reunite families and friends with loved ones in care homes as quickly as possible.”

We will be encouraging and supporting care homes, to facilitate visits to go ahead in a COVID secure way wherever possible.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: “The pandemic has torn many lives apart but few have been more affected than people living in care homes and their families. I know visits from loved ones are what makes life worth living for many care home residents, yet these have been few and far between over the last few months. Visits with a screen or window are better than nothing for many, but they are too confusing or simply impossible for people with advanced dementia.

“That’s why on Monday we are starting visitor testing, firstly in around 20 care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon. Each resident will be able to have one relative or friend who can be their ‘key visitor’ who will take a Covid-test, and then be able to come for an indoor visit without a screen.

“Covid is a cruel disease that takes those who are most vulnerable, particularly older people, and it’s hard to stop it spreading in people’s homes, whether that’s a family home or even in a care home. That’s why there have had to be restrictions on visiting, but also why we are putting care home visitors front of the queue as we bring more tests on stream.

“As Christmas approaches, I want to bring an end to the pain of separation and help care homes bring families and loved ones together. The launch of visitor testing is a crucial step to making that happen.”