Thousands of coronavirus tests will be reserved for use by care homes so family members can visit their relatives before Christmas.
It’s hoped mass testing of visitors will allow homes to do away with ‘prison style’ restrictions and allow families to spend quality time together after eight months apart.
A pilot will launch on Monday in 20 care homes across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. It’s hoped the scheme will be rolled out to other regions before Christmas, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The tests will be offered to one family member or friend for each resident. When combined with other protective measures such as PPE, it’s hoped they will bring an end to ‘heartbreaking’ measures like plastic screens.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I know how heartbreaking restricting visits to care homes has been, not only for residents – many of whom will feel disoriented and confused by the situation – but also their loved ones who aren’t able to simply hug each other to support them in this difficult time.
‘By respecting social distancing and staying at home as much as possible we will help reunite families and friends with loved ones in care homes as quickly as possible.’
Since the virus ran rampant through care homes during the first wave in March and April, residents have been kept shielded from the general population.
Relatives have only been able to visit if they follow strict protocol including using specially designed pods or ‘cuddle screens’ that allow some physical contact.
Campaigners have called for urgent action amid fears care home residents are suffering from severe loneliness which is exacerbating pre-existing conditions.
The Alzheimer’s Society praised ministers for recognising their calls over ‘the integral role that family carers play in supporting their loved ones with dementia’ but worried the change in approach could have come too late for some.
The charity said: ‘We worry it is too little too late for the desperate families who have been waiting eight months to visit their loved ones.
‘The promise of care home visitors being at the front of the line to get more ring-fenced tests as the new ones become available must fast become reality.’
‘We have to recognise the terrible mental health toll on people with dementia simply giving up on life as well as on the many thousands of grieving families who haven’t been able to be with their loved ones in their last months, weeks and days, and who will never be able to get that precious time back.’