Covid-19 tests rolled out for relatives of care home residents to help loved ones meet at Christmas

Health scrutiny committee speakers

Clockwise from left: Cllr Paul Robinson, who chairs the council's health scrutiny committee; Stephan Liebrecht, operational director for adult care and support, and Louise Hider-Davies, head of commissioning for adults' care and support at the council. - Credit: LBBD

Rapid Covid-19 tests are being rolled out so families can visit relatives in care homes this Christmas.

Councillors, town hall chiefs and public health officials discussed the impact of the lateral flow tests in a council meeting on Tuesday, December 8.

The swab tests can take less than an hour to produce a result and are being rolled out this month. Five care homes are already training staff on how to use them.

Louise Hider-Davies, head of commissioning for adults' care and support at the council, said they will really help.

"The care homes have really tried to go above and beyond wherever possible to try and get families to see each other because they know that's absolutely crucial. I think the lateral flow testing will really help with that." 

During the pandemic, care home visitors have had to see loved ones through windows, in grounds or online, although families have been allowed Covid-secure visits to relatives receiving end of life care.

Stephan Liebrecht, operational director for adult care and support, suggested that allowing homes to "bring the guard down" and allow more contact if all their residents are vaccinated could be a benefit.

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Matthew Cole, Barking and Dagenham's director of public health, agreed but said: "The risk will have to be re-evaluated and [people] can meet in a Covid-secure way. No vaccination is 100 per cent. We still have to manage it." 

Mr Liebrecht, reflecting on care home visits in the pandemic, said: "Our immediate problem was the work with care home managers to get them to understand that seeing loved ones for vulnerable, elderly people, who have not been able to do that for months, is critical and just as therapeutic and life-saving as it is to be free from the virus.

"We've seen very risk averse care homes - which is great - but at the same time we felt at one point it was necessary to work on solutions that enable some kind of contact because it so important for people who have been isolated in care homes,"  he added. 

Currently, care home staff are tested for the virus weekly and residents monthly in Barking and Dagenham, the meeting heard.