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17Nov

Government moves to expand social care setting testing for COVID-19

The Government is working with the social care sector to make coronavirus testing available to allow visitors to see loved ones in care homes by Christmas. English care homes will have access to testing services to facilitate COVID-secure visits, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed. A screening pilot scheme was launched this Monday across 20 care home sites in Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. A wider roll-out across the country is expected in December in time for Christmas, depending on the success of the pilot and taking into account Covid-19 transmission rates, said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Under the pilot, testing will be offered to one family member or friend per resident.

The news comes as Government’s testing programme is significantly expanded with further Lighthouse Labs opening, mass testing trials begin in UK cities and the announcement of two new ‘mega labs’ opening in 2021 to boost coronavirus (and other disease) testing to cope with increased demand and backlog lists.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have the testing available in every care home by Christmas, to make sure that people can take a test and therefore see their loved ones safely," Hancock told BBC Breakfast. Updated guidance for social distancing has been issued to care homes also. It details the need for PPE usage and screens between any visitors and care home residents when visiting schedules are in effect. Face coverings and maintaining distance between individuals will continue to be mandatory in these sites which are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks. Initially, care homes will receive a box of 675 lateral flow tests each and will be given access to more as required, Government noted.

Matt Hancock said that if the virus in introduced into a care home setting, it often “runs rife” and risks high levels of mortality and serious illness among elderly residents.  Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, welcomed the pilot and urged the government to “learn the lessons from the pilots speedily” to ensure that designated family members could visit via a national rollout, “regardless of area transmission”. She added that with “testing and equipment in place, safe visits must happen now to avoid further tragedy”.

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