The UK Government is launching a new pilot to enable family members to see their loved ones in care homes with regular COVID-19 testing.
The pilot will be launched in 20 care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall, and Devon and will test the new system which will see designated family and friends given access to regular COVID-19 testing to allow them to visit loved ones in care homes. The Government plans to roll out the scheme more widely in December to coincide with Christmas.
The regular COVID-19 testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident, which – when combined with other infection control measures such as PPE – will enable indoor visits to take place without a screen.
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.”
Reuniting families for Christmas
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. The Government 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 is 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 is 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.”
The pilot has been made possible due to the UK’s expansion in testing capacity, and forms part of plans to roll out mass testing technology across the country. Each care home receiving LFTs will receive a box of 675 tests initially and will be given access to more as required and will take place in local authorities with lower transmission rates to ensure it can be done safely. The pilot will also 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.