Family and friends of people living in care homes will be given regular testing as part of a pilot scheme to be launched today (Monday 16 November).
The pilot will take place in around 20 care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon and could be rolled out more widely in December.
Regular testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident, which when combined with other infection control measures such as personal protective equipment will support visits.
Visitors will be offered either PCR tests, which can be done at home, or 30-minute rapid lateral flow tests (LFTs) that can be administered in person at care homes before a visit. Each care home receiving LFTs will have access to a box of 675 initially.
The government said any decision on a national rollout will be taken depending on transmission rates following national Covid-19 restrictions. Details of the rollout will be guided by the pilot.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘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.’
While welcoming the news, Independent Care Group chair Mike Padgham said: ‘Our pleasure at this pledge is only tempered by the fact that we have had government promises before and they have failed to materialise.
‘We question whether we need to have the pilot programme – which has only just started at 20 homes. By the time that pilot has been completed and the results considered we will be getting perilously close to Christmas. Our advice would be to press ahead with getting testing kits and training out to the homes as soon as possible and not delay any further.’