By Rachael Burford
London boroughs are racing to get plans in place so families can be reunited safely with relatives in care homes in time for Christmas.
This week Hammersmith and Fulham became the first area in the capital to start the roll out of 30 minute rapid Covid tests, which can be taken by visitors just before entering the home.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised the lateral flow tests would be given to care homes across England to end restrictions on visits in time for Christmas.
But only a handful of London facilities were identified for the first round of kit deliveries and northern councils, including Sheffield and Liverpool, delayed usage after questions were raised about the accuracy of the tests.
H&F council said it persevered because many elderly residents had not seen their families since March and Chiswick Nursing Home welcomed its first visitors in months on Wednesday.
Homes will also enforce other precautionary measures, such as a pre-booking system, full PPE and banning hugging, although families will be allowed to hold hands.
Ben Coleman, cabinet member for health at H&F, said: “We had four families come in and take the lateral flow test and then see their relatives. Our carers said it was such a wonderful moment to see those families reunited. The fact is the isolation some of these elderly people are suffering is also making them ill so we have to strike a balance. There is a real sense of something positive happening at last.”
Visiting will still be banned in any care home which has an outbreak. H&F has had just one Covid case in a care home during the second wave of the virus.
For places which have had more, the plans are proving more complicated.
Barking and Dagenham, which had an outbreak of 40 cases in a single care home last month, said it is still working on the logistics of having mass visits in homes but hopes they will be in place by Christmas.
Tower Hamlets, which has also recorded recent Covid-19 cases in retirement facilites, said: “We have regular contact with our care home providers and are working with them to understand the latest government guidelines on visits over the festive period.
“We are supporting our care homes in developing measures which they will need to put in place so that visits can take place safely and families with negative tests can see loved ones.”
Hillingdon council said rapid tests will be in homes by December 18.
A spokesman added: “We would also like to stress that only homes that do not have an outbreak can use lateral flow testing and facilitate visits.”
Harrow and Hounslow homes have yet to receive any of the 30 minute tests from the Government. Both councils said visits can take without them with “careful planning”.
Hounslow Director of Public Health Kelly O’Neill added: “Hounslow is supporting care homes to have indoor visits before and over Christmas.
“Safe visiting and the wellbeing of our residents in our care homes is paramount and getting this balance right by working together is important.
“As we are in Tier 2, some care homes in Hounslow are allowing indoor visits, without testing and they are following infection prevention and control measures agreed with public health.”
Some retirement homes have built “visiting pods” to allow families to see each other, but not touch.
Richmond said it helped to have rapid testing for visitors in all its care homes by December 28.
“The council has provided extensive funding to care homes including the Infection Control Fund which can be used to support their services at this times,” a spokesman said.
Pictured:The Holly House Care Home in Enfield
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