We wrote at the start of this month about the government’s plans for visits to care homes and how this could be implemented in a Covid-secure manner. Such plans however were heavily criticised by the care home industry and families of residents. The government’s proposed measures required equipment such as screens and intercoms, so would cause difficulties for residents with dementia or cognitive difficulties, not to mention putting extra financial strain on homes in funding this equipment.
This week the government has announced plans for regular testing of visitors to care homes, with the aim to have this in place for all care homes by Christmas. A pilot scheme is presently taking place in Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. The testing will only be available for one visitor per resident and will be carried out by care home staff that will be trained on proper testing procedures. Visitors will be offered either a PCR test to be carried out at home, or a new fast lateral flow test to be carried out at the care home prior to a visit, which produces a result within 30 minutes. The intention is that PPE should still be used by visitors even if they had a negative Covid test, since both forms of testing are not entirely reliable but this would avoid the need for equipment such as floor to ceiling screens.
Whilst this does appear a welcome development, there are also costs and resource implications for care homes. For example a separate room would be required to conduct the lateral flow test, and then the visitor would need to isolate in the home whilst awaiting the test results – do homes have availability space? The care home would need to make available staff to undertake the testing, so taking those staff away from their normal duties. There must also be a question over liability and claims here – for example if a staff member is trained externally to undertake testing but then conducts a test incorrectly, leading to an outbreak of Covid-19 within a home, is the home vicariously liable for the employee’s actions?
In addition, many homes may not now have PL cover for Covid-19 related claims as many insurers have now excluded these from cover upon renewal. Care homes should consider carefully the implications of this and their responsibility in respect of testing and the provision of PPE and safe visiting.
Further information on the pilot testing scheme can be found here.