Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language
We all know how difficult recent months have been for people living in care homes and their loved ones. We are keen to support care home providers in their efforts to ensure that the people they care for can reconnect safely with family and friends.
Earlier this month we announced, following a period of stocktake, the continuation of the asymptomatic care home staff testing programme. In view of the improvement in testing technologies and capability, we have also been reviewing our position on testing other areas of social care. Over the next few weeks we will be able to provide updates on progress of this important work; we wish to start by providing an update on the next steps we are taking to support visitors to care homes.
Many of you will be aware of the recent announcement by the UK Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) that they would be using new rapid-testing technologies to pilot a programme of Covid-19 screening for visitors to care homes in England. We are pleased to announce that a pilot programme will also be operating across a small number of care homes in Wales from 30 November. This is intended to be a logistical pilot which will pave the way for a wider roll-out to more Welsh care homes starting from the week commencing 14 December.
As part of the pilot care homes across all parts of Wales, have volunteered to offer testing to care home visitors using Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs). These tests offer a result in roughly 20 minutes and provide people living in care homes, visitors and home managers an additional level of confidence and reassurance in enabling safe and vital visits to some of our most vulnerable individuals.
However we must not allow ourselves to become complacent. LFDs are not as sensitive as the RT-PCR tests we currently use in other testing programmes, including the asymptomatic screening programme and so will not detect 100% of positive cases. Therefore a negative test does not give us a ‘free pass’ and appropriate infection prevention and control procedures, such as hand hygiene and PPE, and appropriate social distancing must continue to be followed. Similarly, any positive result must be reported to the Test, Trace Protect service and will need to be confirmed with a follow-up test; we will be providing care homes with a supply of at-home RT-PCR test kits, specifically for those visitors who do test positive for Covid-19. .
Our timescales are ambitious, and there are logistical practicalities to be worked through. However we believe that by working dynamically through the pilot stage and collaboratively with participating care homes, we can enable more people living in care homes to spend valuable time with their families and friends over the Christmas period. We also wanted to emphasise that this testing announcement for care homes in no way overrides the recent testing announcements made by the Minister for Education regarding testing for students returning home for Christmas.
We are aware that testing is only a partial solution to enable greater visiting. In particular we are also aware that some providers have found it difficult to support socially distanced visits due to a lack of internal visiting space. This is particularly challenging during the winter months and is even more pressing as the festive season approaches.
We are therefore pleased to also announce the launch of a pilot scheme which will support care home providers in accommodating socially distanced visits by providing a limited number of visiting pods free of charge for a trial period of 26 weeks.
We will start the pilot with 30 visiting pods but hope to make up to 100 pods available overall if there is sufficient interest.
We will be working at pace to have the initial 30 visiting pods installed and ready to use before Christmas. Care Inspectorate Wales has already contacted all care home providers in Wales seeking expressions of interest this week. We hope to be able to inform those who have been successful during the week commencing 30 November.
In addition, we expect to make up to £1 million available to support providers who prefer to make their own arrangements on a similar basis. Further details will be announced.
The pilot scheme will help us to understand whether visiting pods are an effective and practical way of supporting meaningful visits. We will use this learning to determine whether we should consider commissioning a bespoke Wales-based solution in future if the course of the pandemic means this is required.
Once again we offer our sincere thanks to care home providers and their staff for all their efforts and commitment during this challenging period.