Covid: Testing to help care home residents receive indoor visits by Christmas

The government has published its plan to allow all care home residents to receive visits by Christmas. Credit: PA

Care home residents who are under 65 will be allowed to leave the home at Christmas to spend time with their families, the government has announced.

All care home residents in England will be able to receive indoor visits from relatives over the Christmas period if they test negative for coronavirus.

Working age residents at care homes will be allowed to visit families for five days between December 23 and 27, so long as all members of the household hosting the visit get a negative result from a Covid-19 test taken "immediately" before the visit.

The Department for Health said the tests "could be taken when the family go to the care home to collect the resident for the visit".

"Care homes should make use of the lateral flow devices they have been supplied with for this purpose," it added.

The resident should also be tested before leaving the home, and will only be permitted to do so if the result is negative.

More than a million tests will be sent to care home providers over the next month which will enable safe indoor visits, the DHSC said.

It is important for visitors to minimise contact as much as possible and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to help protect their loved ones, the DHSC added.

An extra 46 million items of free PPE will be sent to Care Quality Commission-registered providers.

Visits will be able to take place across all tiers, and will start on Wednesday.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how difficult it has been for people in care homes and their families to be apart for so long.

"The separation has been painful but has protected residents and staff from this deadly virus.

“I’m so pleased we are now able to help reunite families and more safely allow people to have meaningful contact with their loved ones by Christmas.

“This news has been made possible by the unprecedented strides made in testing technology and capacity, as well as extra personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.”

Care minister Helen Whately said: “It is impossible to eliminate risk entirely, but now thanks to an enormous expansion of testing capacity and a huge delivery of free PPE we can help to more safely reunite families throughout December.”

The DHSC said more than a million lateral flow tests, providing rapid results, have been sent out to the country’s 385 biggest care homes.

The number of test kits will allow up to two visitors per resident, based on them visiting twice a week.

Care homes will manage the number of visits that take place, the DHSC added.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the government must adequately support the sector if its plans are to be successfully realised.

As elderly people are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, many care homes have taken extra precautions and limited visits. Credit: PA Images

He added: “We appreciate the continued risks associated with visits but this represents a positive step forwards.

“The most important relationships in most people’s lives are with their families or other people, where love and trust are shared.”

The government also announced that Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors will be tested weekly, after months of calls from care organisations for them to receive regular testing.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said it is really good news that the government has “significantly shifted” its position on care home visiting.

But she cautioned: “The government has promised that everyone will be able to visit their loved one by Christmas and, while this is a laudable aim it is also very ambitious, so we remain worried that practical difficulties of various kinds could get in the way for some.

“Older people and their families have been through so much, we need to be careful not to set them up for further disappointments.”