The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that care home residents in all tiers will be able to see their families this Christmas. One million tests are to be sent out to providers over the next month, with the first visits taking place today.
A significant increase in testing capacity, paired with new testing technology, will allow friends and family to visit relatives in care homes if they receive a negative result prior to the visit.
The Government has reinforced that it will still be critical for visitors to wear appropriate PPE and follow other infection control measures within the care home to keep their loved ones, other residents, and staff safe.
An extra 46 million items of free PPE will be sent to CQC-registered care home providers through the Government portal, in addition to PPE already available.
The number of tests kits being supplied has been modelled to allow up to two visitors per resident, visiting twice a week. Care homes will need to manage the number of visits to ensure they can enable safe visiting and the programme will be continuously reviewed as it is rolled out.
The Government is also publishing new guidance allowing some residents under 65 years old to spend time with their families at Christmas outside of care homes. This will be subject to an individual risk assessment, a negative test before leaving and a period of self-isolation upon return. However, individuals may only form a bubble with one other household and should not form a three-household Christmas bubble at any point.
The new Government guidance says that if anyone planning to visit a care home develops symptoms they must cancel the visit, self-isolate, and order a test.
The adult social care sector has been prioritised for the rollout of testing, and care homes have been one of the first groups to be given access to repeat asymptomatic testing, with 120,000 tests a day ring-fenced for regular care home testing. Following this one-off push of test kits throughout December, care homes will be able to order more rapid tests in a similar way to the current ordering process.
In addition, the Government is expanding regular COVID-19 testing to all Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors.
Responding to the new guidance on care home visiting over the Christmas period, Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England said, ‘Care England is pleased that the Government has responded to the needs of the sector. In order for these promising plans to land successfully, the sector must now be adequately supported by the Government. Care England has always supported meaningful contact between families and residents, whilst recognising that the balance between freedom and safety needs to be explored at the most granular level possible.
‘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.’
Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive at CQC said, ‘Person-centred care has never been more important and recognising that part of people’s identity and wellbeing comes from their relationships is key. Being able to visit friends and family in person wherever possible is at the heart of this and that is why we have encouraged care providers to support visiting as best they can whilst keeping people safe.
‘We are also delighted to be able to offer the additional assurance to care providers that our inspectors will be getting weekly testing for COVID-19, following the Department for Health and Social Care’s decision to offer testing to key workers.’
Vic Rayner, Executive Director at the National Care Forum (NCF) said, ‘It is really positive that the Government has reiterated that visiting should be the default position in care homes. This is absolutely the position that we have been campaigning for, and one that we applaud...
'However, as ever, recognising the requirements and support needed to enable the sector to put this visiting policy into practice remains an inherent weakness. The scale of the testing commitments is substantial, with an expectation that testing should be available for every resident to have twice weekly testing for up to two visitors per week... Overall, the guidance around visiting is largely ‘on the money’ – but without the money.’
Commenting on the Government’s confirmed plans, Mike Padgham, Chair of the Independent Care Group (ICG) said, ‘All in all, that is a huge order and we would urge all families to be patient because it is going to be a massive undertaking to enable that kind of programme of care and nursing home visiting and outward visits, in such a short timescale.
‘The ICG has great misgivings about the burden of decision-making over both types of visit being placed so heavily on the shoulders of registered managers. We also need some urgent clarity over the accuracy of the Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) the Government wants us to use as there have been some doubts cast.’
Visit the Government’s website to view the latest care home visiting guidance.
Find out how the Government answered initial calls from the social care industry regarding care home visiting.