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Covid: Care home visitors in Wales to get 20-minute tests

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe so-called "lateral flow" test returns results within 20 minutes

A pilot scheme to give care home visitors 20-minute Covid-19 tests will start next week, Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced.

The UK-wide pilot will initially involve 15 care homes in Wales but will be rolled out to further homes, if successful, from 14 December.

Mr Gething said the tests would not replace other safety measures.

It comes after the Welsh Government announced £3m for care homes to install temporary "pods" for Christmas visits.

media captionPods are to be installed at care homes across Wales to allow residents to receive visitors over the Christmas period

Lateral flow tests give much quicker results than existing tests, and are the same as those being used in the community testing project in Merthyr Tydfil.

"These tests will give home managers extra confidence and reassurance that visits can go ahead without coronavirus also coming into the care home," Mr Gething said at the Welsh Government's coronavirus press briefing on Monday.

"These tests do not replace all the other measures, such as infection control, social distancing and hand hygiene, which are so important to preventing the spread of coronavirus, especially in care homes."

Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth said the take up of lateral flow testing "has been too slow in Wales".

"But we need now to make sure that pilot schemes are rolled out widely," he added.

image copyrightPalms Row Health Care
image captionGlass pods have been installed in the grounds of two care homes in Sheffield to allow residents to see their loved ones safely face-to-face

The announcement followed news of another pilot, which will see an initial 30 pods given to care homes ahead of the festive period.

In total, Mr Gething said 100 would be installed for a period of six months.

It comes after it was revealed 53 people were discharged from hospital into Welsh care homes after a positive Covid test earlier in the pandemic.

Mr Gething said the visitor pods would expand capacity within care homes which lack internal visiting space and struggle to accommodate socially-distanced visits from outsiders.

The cash will also include £1m to help care homes help to plan visits in other ways.

"We all know how difficult recent months have been for people living in care homes and their loved ones, however ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable has always been paramount," Mr Gething explained.

"We recognise both the distress and sadness that has been experienced since March, but also the desire from care homes to facilitate visits before and during Christmas as well as throughout the winter.

He added that he was confident the pods would help "meaningful visits" to take place.

image captionHealth Minister Vaughan Gething said ensuring the safety of vulnerable people was "paramount"

Care home manager Meryl Welsby said having a pod had made all the difference at her residence in the Conwy Valley.

"It's been really difficult for us and the residents, because they need to see their relatives," she said.

"During lockdown we've scheduled three visits a day by Skype or through the window, but it's still not the same."

The Bryn yr Eglwys home in Pentrefoelas invested its own cash in the £10,000 pod before the Welsh Government scheme was announced.

Residents go in one side of the specially adapted building, with relatives on the other side, with a screen between them.

It means there can be three visiting slots a day at the home, with time in between to clean the pod.

"We've been Covid free throughout, so our processes are effective," added Ms Welsby.

"Now we've got the pods, the visitors are overwhelmed."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHomes are 'working really hard' to make safe visits happen, says the care industry

Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of the industry body Care Forum Wales, said the move was welcomed but she recognised it would not be a solution for all locations.

"Care homes are being asked to express interest in the pods, and they'll need to know they have space for it - so it's not going to work for everybody," she told BBC Radio Wales' Breakfast programme.

"What everyone wants is to put there residents, as safely as possible, back in touch with loved ones.

"Meeting outside, especially as we get more wintery, is just not suitable for everybody."

She said she was pleased additional money was also being made available for homes where pods may not be suitable.

"I think everyone is working really hard to do what they can to make visiting work," she added.

In July, the Welsh Parliament's health committee said care homes were "badly let down" by the Welsh Government at the start of the crisis, and ministers had been too slow to launch a testing regime for both staff and residents.

On Friday, it was revealed 15 residents had died in a three-week period following a coronavirus outbreak at Llangollen Fechan Care Home in Llangollen, Denbighshire.

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