The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced family members or friends of those living in care homes will receive regular testing to allow them to visit their loved ones.
DHSC said the pilot will take place in around 20 care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon from Monday (November 16) and will be rolled out more widely in December in time for Christmas.
Regular testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident, which, when combined with other infection-control measures such as PPE, will support meaningful visits.
These will enable, 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 (LFTs), which can be administered in person at care homes before a visit.
However, Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, said the pilot is ‘too little too late’.
‘We’re pleased to finally have the details of the pilot, and it’s great to see the government listening to our calls for recognition of the integral role that family carers play in supporting their loved ones with dementia.
‘Testing is the solution, we appreciate the Ministers’ recognition that screens and windows just don’t work for people with dementia and their families.
‘But 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, as we simply can’t afford for the misery, heartache and deaths to continue.
‘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.
‘We urge the government to learn the lessons from the pilots speedily, ensuring all designated family carers get visiting access fast via a national rollout, regardless of area transmission rates – with testing and equipment in place, safe visits must happen now to avoid further tragedy.’
DHSC said each care home receiving LFTs will receive a box of 675 initially and will be given access to more as required.
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.
It will further develop the evidence base for how testing with fast, reliable COVID-19 tests can be delivered at scale. If successful, care home testing will be rolled out in a phased way across the country.
Any decision on a national roll-out will be taken in light of the latest available data on transmission rates as a result of national COVID-19 restrictions.
Exact details of the national roll-out will be published in due course and will be guided by the pilot. It is anticipated the LFTs will be used across the country to support rapid access. If these faster tests work in this setting we will ring-fence supply to open up more chances for visiting.
Health and Social Care 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.’
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