A ‘small number’ of Devon care homes have been selected to take part in a rapid results Covid-19 test trial for relatives to visit their loved ones indoors without a screen.
Around 20 care homes across Devon, Cornwall and Hampshire have been selected to take part in the trial before a wider roll-out in December.
Family members or friends of those living in care homes will be given regular testing to reunite them with their loved ones inside care homes as part of the trial which launched on Monday, November 16.
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.
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.”
Among those taking part in the trial in Devon is Sefton Hall in Dawlish. Earlier this year, the home was in the news when it arranged a ‘drive-through’, enabling families to see their loved ones from their cars for the first time in months after the first national lockdown.
The home has been rated Outstanding twice by the Care Quality Commission and has won several awards including the accolade of Best Care Home at the National Care Awards 2019.
Managing director of parent company Southern Healthcare Geoffrey Cox said: “We are thrilled to have been asked to take part in this trial, which is necessary and not a minute too soon.
“This has been a very distressing time for families, and everyone connected with the care sector.
“We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to safely move closer towards normality despite this dreadful situation.
“The wellbeing of residents, their loved ones and everyone else involved with them is the reason people come to work in this sector, so our team are very enthusiastic and determined to ensure this pilot is a complete success.”
The pilot, which forms part of plans to roll out mass testing technology across the country, has been made possible thanks to a huge expansion in the country’s testing capacity, which currently stands at over 500,000 per day.
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.
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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.
Steve Brown, public health Devon director (designate), said: “The visiting restrictions for care homes have been incredibly difficult, both for the residents and their loved ones who have been unable to comfort them in the way they would do normally.
“Care homes in Devon have worked hard to continue to enable visits in line with government guidance where possible and with all the appropriate safeguards in place to protect residents visitors and staff.
“But this has often involved separation screens or talking through windows, which for some has been extremely confusing and distressing.
“I’m pleased that Devon is taking part in this innovative pilot to help care home residents safely see their families and friends more regularly, and if successful, we look forward to more welcome reunions as the government rolls the scheme out more widely.”