Care sector cautious over ‘rapid tests’ allowing visitors into care homes by Christmas
More than a million tests have been earmarked for a new strategy to allow care home visitors in England by Christmas, but sector bodies raise concerns over practicalities.
Sheffield and Liverpool city councils have confirmed today (2nd December) that they will be instructing care homes not to use the Government’s new ‘rapid’ testing systems for visitors.
Liverpool City Council has said that will instead insist that visitors receive two negative tests 24 hours apart as the lateral flow tests ‘may not be safe enough’, despite its participation in the mass testing trial in November.
The Government said that coronavirus tests will be made available to care homes across the country, enabling care homes to “safely maintain a balance between infection control and the vital benefits of visiting to the health and wellbeing of residents”.
The testing kits provide results in around 20 minutes; however, concerns have been raised about their accuracy following a study conducted by Public Health England and Oxford University that found a significant number of false negative readings. Data from the study showed that they are around 77% effective in finding Covid-19 cases, mainly due to misadministration.
Alongside the testing kits, the Government has also announced that an extra 46 million items of free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be sent to CQC-registered care home providers before Christmas.
Care sector bodies have largely welcomed the Government’s announcement but have also warned that the time frame of Christmas may be unreachable with current funding and staffing allowances.
Age UK welcomed the new policy saying it represented a “significant shift” in the Government’s stance on care home visiting but warned that “practical difficulties of various kinds could get in the way for some”.
Care England Chief Executive, Martin Green has warned that whilst the announcement from the Government is “extremely welcome”, that promising results by Christmas may lead to disappointment for some, as “it will be a while until [the new system] is entrenched”.
The National Care Forum, called the guidance “really positive”, but warned that the system outlined by the Government would “require an additional 3.6 million hours of care staff time, currently with no additional resource[s] to deliver this”. Executive Director, Vic Rayner, said that the Government risked setting “huge expectations around visiting, with no meaningful ability for care homes to deliver at the scale and pace required to make visiting a reality for all by Christmas.”
Under the new guidance, visitors will be tested at the care home when they arrive, having to wait for a negative test before being allowed in. They will also have to wear appropriate PPE and follow other infection controls such as hand washing and social distancing from other care home residents and staff. Hand holding and hugging will be permitted.
The Government says that the number of tests kits being allocated will allow up to two visitors to visit twice a week, per resident and will be available to all care homes, regardless of the ‘tier’ of their location.
Read more about the mental health impact of the Coronavirus restrictions imposed on care home residents here