Care home owner calls for 24-hour COVID-19 tests to allow family visits

A North East care home owner has called for the Government to add the families of residents to the same Covid testing system used by the NHS, which would allow them to safely visit their loved ones. Results for these tests generally come back within 24 hours. which is quicker than the current system used for care homes.The government told ITV News it is considering plans to allow specific family members to visit homes safely.This week, campaigners called for designated family members to be given "key worker" status and be tested for Covid regularly to ensure visits to care homes are safe. They said they will seek a judicial review if the government fails to change the guidelines.The Care Minister, Helen Whately MP, told a commons committee she is planning to "launch a pilot" shortly, which might allow for safe family visits, but could not give any details.But the owner of Cramlington House Care Home in Northumberland, Lucy Craig, has told ITV News the only way to make the pilot work is to ensure relatives are tested using the same system which tests NHS workers, saying it would be pointless to test them under the current care home system."What we need the government to do is to put the relative testing through the pillar 1 system so that we have the results within 24 hours, so we know that relatives are safely visiting their loved ones within the homes. I’d we allow it to carry on as it is with the way that the staff are tested, we’re waiting up to a week for test results to come in and if that happened with relatives and they had that five to ten day delay, they could be infected throughout that period of time when they come in."

COVID swab testing results are split into two pillars. The first come solely from NHS and Public Health England tests.The second comes from the community, including routine testing in care homes, which predominantly use 'satellite' testing centres.

According to official figures, on average more than four in five Pillar 1 tests (88.5 percent between 9 June - 30 September) come back within 24 hours of labs receiving the swabs, but in September only around one in ten (12.5 per cent between 3 - 30 September) results processed by satellite centres were returned within 48 hours of swabs being taken.The Department for Health & Social Care told ITV News more than 120,000 tests are being sent out everyday solely for the care sector."We recognise how important it is to allow care home residents to safely meet their loved ones, especially for those at the end of their lives, and the challenges visiting restrictions pose for people with dementia, learning disabilities, autistic adults and their family and friends in particular. Our priority remains the prevention of infection in care homes to protect staff and residents but we are considering plans to allow specific family and friends to visit care homes safely. We will set out further details in due course."