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Care homes ‘need more support’ to deliver Christmas visits

Care home umbrella groups have asked for additional support to deliver the indoor visits over Christmas promised by the Government.

In guidance published yesterday, the Government said a million tests are being sent to care providers to allow residents in all tiers to see their families during the Christmas period. The first visits could begin yesterday.   

However, National Care Forum executive director Vic Rayner said that the ‘substantial’ testing required in the guidance ‘will require an additional 3.6 million hours of care staff time, currently with no additional resource to deliver this’.

She continued: ‘It is essential that the government addresses this immediately, or else risks setting in train 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.’

The guidance stated that testing should be available for every resident to be tested twice a week for up to two visitors per week by Christmas.

Visitors should be ‘mindful of the additional workload for the care home’ and that the care home ‘will need to make their own assessments’ and possibly develop their own policies, it adds.

As part of the move, an extra 46 million items of free PPE will also be sent to care homes. Visitors must also wear appropriate PPE and follow other infection control measures within the care home.

More than a million lateral flow tests, which provide results in about 20 minutes, have so far been sent out to the 385 biggest care homes in the first part of the rollout, the Government said.

King’s Fund senior fellow Simon Bottery echoed the warning that although the announcement is ‘very welcome’, it could ‘raise people’s expectations and lead to disappointment down the line’.

He told Nursing in Practice: ‘Implementing safe visiting will require a huge, costly effort by thousands of homes, many of which are already short-staffed and under-resourced. They’ll do their best but they don’t have long to make this happen before Christmas.’

Director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society Fiona Carragher said that visits over Christmas are ‘hugely important’ and ‘quite literally will be keeping people alive and tethered to the world’.

However, she added: ‘We do just urge that Government ensures care homes are not burdened by extra administrative costs so that the rollout is feasible, and visits continue.’     

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This news has been made possible by the unprecedented strides made in testing technology and capacity, as well as extra PPE supplies.’

Minister for Care 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.’

Prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday acknowledged that there were ‘logistical challenges’ to delivering the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine to care homes.

This comes after the Welsh Government released a statement saying it ‘will not be possible’ to deliver the Pfizer Covid vaccine to care home residents in Wales due to practical constraints.