Care home managers have been promised rapid Covid testing kits within weeks so residents can be reunited with loved ones in time for Christmas, the Mail can reveal.
Officials have written to all care home bosses announcing the rollout of a scheme to ensure proper visits by family members can resume.
The Department of Health letter, seen by the Daily Mail, was sent to all care homes in England this week.
It says they will receive supplies of rapid lateral flow tests within weeks – and urges care homes to start preparing for family members to visit their loved ones indoors, where they will finally be allowed to hug and hold hands.
Care home managers have been promised rapid Covid testing kits within weeks so residents can be reunited with loved ones in time for Christmas (pictured: Relatives reunited in Norfolk)
It represents concrete evidence that ministers intend to deliver on their promise to reunite care home residents with their relatives following our campaign on the issue.
Last night, campaigners hailed it as ‘brilliant news’, and said it could end ‘nine months of hell’ for distraught families who have been torn apart by cruel visiting restrictions.
The guidance sent to homes said that ‘the Department of Health is commencing the national rollout of lateral flow tests to care homes’.
It said the tests, which deliver results within 20-30 minutes, will be provided ‘in the coming weeks’ and that personal protective equipment for visitors will be delivered by December 18.
The Department of Health letter says they will receive supplies of rapid lateral flow tests within weeks (pictured: A Covid test is carried out at a care home in Norfolk)
The email from the Department of Health added: ‘Please consider how your care home can best prepare for this new testing’.
It urged them to ensure they have enough PPE for visitors, and said they should prepare a designated area for testing of visitors.
Care homes were also told to train staff on how to use lateral flow tests, and said they will all be invited to a one hour webinar providing details on how to use the kits.
The rollout of rapid testing is a major victory for the Mail’s Christmas campaign calling for all care home residents to be allowed meaningful in-person visits with their friends and family.
For nearly nine months, most have only been able to wave at loved ones through a window or Perspex screen.
But on Monday Boris Johnson announced that each resident will be granted two designated ‘key visitors’ who are tested regularly to ensure they are not carrying the virus.
Vic Rayner, from the National Care Forum, said: ‘Ultimately it is brilliant news that lateral flow tests will be available to all care homes within weeks.
‘We know this is the right thing to do, but it is important that care homes receive the extra resources they need to facilitate these visits.
‘They will need extra funding to see it through and co-ordinate staffing, testing and PPE for visitors.’
Donna Pierpoint, manager of Broomgrove care home in Sheffield, said she ‘jumped for joy’ when she received the email from the DoH.
‘It’s absolutely amazing news. We’ve not yet been given the dates but have been told we’ll get the tests in the coming weeks.
‘Visitors will still have to wear face masks but this means they will be allowed to hug and hold hands which means everything.
‘It means people can cuddle and hold their loved ones on Christmas Day – I can’t wait to see the smiles on people’s faces.
‘It feels like a big commitment from the Government. The tests only take 20-30 minutes so they can arrive on site and find out almost straight away if they’re negative.’
Gavin Terry, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s good to finally see the Government taking these concrete steps.
‘At least 70 per cent of people in care homes have dementia, and for them and their families it’s been nine months of hell.’
On Thursday Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary, raised the issue in the Commons.
He asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock if every person in a care home could be sure that they could be visited by a relative before Christmas.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘We are now developing the protocols for exactly how that can happen and working hard with the goal that everyone should have the opportunity to visit a loved one in a care home before Christmas.’