Matt Hancock last night offered families hope on care home testing – but was told by campaigners to move much faster.
And he said a pilot scheme at 20 sites would end the need for ‘prison-style’ plastic screens and other restrictions.
But care home bosses warned the trial did not go far enough or fast enough. They pleaded with ministers to roll out rapid tests to all sites immediately.
Campaigners say the health of many residents in the nation’s 12,000 care homes is quickly deteriorating and they cannot wait another day to see loved ones.
‘Every day without tests is another lost opportunity for people who haven’t got long left in life to see their families,’ said Nadra Ahmed of the National Care Association.
Matt Hancock last night offered families hope on care home testing – but was told by campaigners to move much faster
The Health Secretary has vowed to ring-fence a supply of coronavirus swabs for family visitors in the run-up to Christmas. And he said a pilot scheme at 20 sites would end the need for ‘prison-style’ plastic screens and other restrictions
The Department of Health confirmed last night the pilot scheme would start on Monday, with the aim of allowing indoor visits. It could also let residents have physical contact with loved ones
Care home visits still banned in some postcodes… while other families forced to see elderly loved ones using an iPad
By Martin Beckford and Eleanor Hayward for the Daily Mail
Families face a heartbreaking postcode lottery over Christmas visits to their loved ones in care homes, with the elderly still facing council bans in parts of Britain.
Despite ministers saying last week that residents should be allowed to have visitors, an audit by the Mail has revealed at least eight areas of the country where there are restrictions.
In six further boroughs, officials continue to warn against face-to-face meetings between pensioners and their relatives and promote ‘virtual visits’ with iPads instead.
Last night campaigners said the way town halls had interpreted the complex and confusing Government guidelines had created a cruel postcode lottery.
In Newcastle, Derby, Birmingham and Camden, north London, only pensioners who are dying can see their relatives and it is not clear when the rules will be relaxed. This is also the case in Hounslow, Tower Hamlets and North Tyneside.
Meanwhile, care home residents in Liverpool can only have guests outside while in Newham, east London, they can see each other just through windows or from a car. Council leaders in Rotherham, Shropshire, Dudley and Warwickshire are also discouraging physical visits.
But in 60 other parts of the country, directors of public health are now helping managers draw up risk assessments so that visits can take place safely after months of care home residents being kept apart from friends and family.
Diane Mayhew, from the campaign group Rights for Residents, told the Mail: ‘It’s totally unfair and barbaric that your contact with family depends on where you live and what your local council decides. The postcode lottery adds to the cruelty and unfairness of the situation. Everyone has a right to see their loved ones – it shouldn’t matter what postcode you live in.’
Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Families are missing out on vital last weeks and days with their loved ones and for many, time is running out.
‘The Government thinks they’ve supported care homes to open their doors, but it’s clear there’s huge confusion and a postcode-lottery approach, absolutely unacceptable for heart-stricken families. We need blanket approval, not blanket bans.’
Birmingham City Council has told local care homes it will publish its new guidance next week, but until then visits continue to be banned except in end-of-life cases.
Newcastle City Council said: ‘Care homes in the region have been advised to stop non-essential visiting, excluding health care professionals and those involved in end-of-life care, including family members.’
Camden council said visits had not yet restarted after the capital went into Tier 2 restrictions in October, but added: ‘We are working with our care homes to urgently review the government guidance.’
And Tower Hamlets in east London said: ‘We have advised that homes restrict visits to clinical and end-of-life visits only.’
‘There is no reason why these tests couldn’t be made available to all care homes tomorrow.’
The Health Secretary insists the pilot scheme will be rolled out nationally next month – if it works – reaching as many homes as possible by Christmas.
The Daily Mail launched a major campaign this week for testing to be ramped up so each resident can have a key visitor.
The launch had an overwhelming response with support from MPs, major charities, campaigners and desperate relatives.
The campaign is also calling for an end to the postcode lottery of different visiting rules around the country.
The Department of Health confirmed last night the pilot scheme would start on Monday, with the aim of allowing indoor visits. It could also let residents have physical contact with loved ones.
Key visitors will be tested weekly at 20 locations across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon.
They will receive either a PCR swab test to perform at home, or the new lateral flow test, which give results within 30 minutes.
Addressing this newspaper’s campaign for the first time last night, Mr Hancock said: ‘I want to thank the Daily Mail and your readers for campaigning on this issue; one that I know means so much to so many people across this country.
‘The heart-breaking stories and pictures from our care homes are scenes that none of us wants to see and the result of a situation that none of us wants to be in.
‘We want care homes to do everything in their power to help residents see the ones they love.’
Of the pilot scheme, he added: ‘Crucially, this will mean people can visit their loved ones indoors and without screens, safe in the knowledge they are free from the virus.
‘If we prove that these faster tests work in these circumstances I am clear that we will ring-fence supply to help open up more chances for visiting.
‘We want to learn as many lessons from the programme as possible, so we can offer this chance to even more visitors and residents of care homes around the country into December and before Christmas.’
The Health Secretary insisted any visits must be safe and he would be working with care home owners and professionals to ensure this.
However campaigners questioned the size of the pilot programme when Department of Health figures show a spare daily capacity of around 200,000 coronavirus tests.
Just 60,000 would be required each day for every care home resident to have one meaningful face-to-face visit each week.
Jenny Morrison, of the campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘There is no need for a pilot scheme, we know these tests work. They could be available in all care homes right now.
‘How dare they think a trial of testing in 20 care homes is enough? It is obviously great if you have a loved one in one of those care homes.
‘But for the people in the other 12,000 care homes in the UK, nothing has changed. With each day that goes by there are more people dying and deteriorating from loneliness and isolation.
‘The pilot study will take at least a month, and people are already living on borrowed time. Vague promises of hopes to get things in place by Christmas are not enough.
‘We will only believe it when we are able to get in the doors and hold the hands of our loved ones.’
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the tests were now so quick ‘that visitors could just sit in the car park or get a cup of tea while waiting to find out if they are positive, then they could come inside for safe visits’.
Jenny Morrison, of the campaign group Rights for Residents, said: ‘There is no need for a pilot scheme, we know these tests work. They could be available in all care homes right now.’ Meanwhile, Labour’s care spokesperson Liz Kendall urged others to back the campaign
Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, said Boris Johnson could show his concern for social care reform by rolling out mass testing without delay.
He added: ‘For a lot of people with dementia, this could be the last Christmas where they recognise their families. People are dying alone – that is not acceptable.’
Liz Kendall, Labour’s care spokesman, said: ‘I urge everyone to back the Mail’s campaign and make sure we bring families back together for Christmas.
‘We’ve been calling for the Government to make families with loved ones in care homes a priority for testing since June, just as is supposed to happen for care home staff.
‘Unless the Government changes course many care home residents will end up fading fast and their families will suffer the pain and sorrow of not being able to see the people they love and care about most.’
Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: ‘With the health of those in care already deteriorating without contact, the Government’s pilot testing scheme simply doesn’t cut it.’
Emotional moment a 92-year-old care home resident sees her son through a window in their first reunion for months
By Jemma Carr for MailOnline
A 92-year-old care home resident saw her son for the first time in months through a screen put up in her care home as the country’s second nation-wide lockdown continues.
Freda Maddison – a resident at Eothen Homes in Wallsend, North Tyneside – had not been able to see her son Stephen since the spike in coronavirus cases led to new restrictions around care home visits.
Mr Maddison has not been able to hug his mother since February.
But on Friday, they were able to meet again – while still following lockdown rules – thanks to a special visiting booth set up at the home.
Freda Maddison – a 92-year-old care home resident – saw her son for the first time in months through a screen put up in her Wallsend care home (pictured) as the country’s second nation-wide lockdown continues
Freda was brought into the lounge and sat outside the home’s ‘Butterfly Booth’, while her son arrived through a separate door and sat inside the pod.
Heartwarming footage shows the pair speaking to each other and touching hands through the screen.
Ms Maddison, who has Alzheimer’s and has been at the care home for nearly a year, said it was ‘absolutely wonderful’ to see her son.
She said it was ‘like a lost treasure come to life.’
Ms Maddison said it was strange seeing him inside the booth but added: ‘It’s better than nothing.’
She said she told her son: ‘I always think of him. And he said the same to me.’
Mr Maddison, 56, of High Heaton, said: ‘It was very good. Her eyesight is failing sometimes so she had to get a bit closer so she could see who it was.
Ms Maddison – a resident at Eothen Homes in Wallsend, North Tyneside – had not been able to see her son Stephen (pictured during their meeting) since the spike in coronavirus cases led to new restrictions around care home visits
On Friday, they were able to meet again (pictured) thanks to a special visiting booth set up at the home
‘It was nice being able to sit close to my mam. There was a screen in front – but if you put your hand on the screen, you can feel the warmth.
‘She could feel the warmth of my hand and I could feel the warmth of hers. It’s not as good as a hug but better than a phone call.
‘It’s a good move from the home to do this. I think it’ll be very good for the residents and their families. It’s very safe.’
Christine Henderson, manager of the care home, said: ‘In September, new restrictions were brought in and we could not have visitors. We kept life as normal as possible and carried on.
‘But now that the rules have changed, we can allow visitors again. We set up this booth so that residents could see their family in a safe way.’
The affect of the UK’s second lockdown on pensioners’ mental health has become a topic of great concern as the country sees a second wave of the virus.
The first introduction of draconian social-distancing rules left countless numbers of the nation’s most vulnerable isolated for months on end.
Ms Maddison said it was strange seeing him inside the booth (pictured) but added: ‘It’s better than nothing’
And ahead of the November 5 restrictions, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was warned that banning care home visits again would breach ‘fundamental human rights’.
But concerns about isolation are mirrored by an increased virus risk.
More than 20,000 care home residents died from Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic and official figures show the number of people dying from Covid in English facilities doubled in a fortnight in October.
Experts say the decision to discharge thousands of untested hospital patients into care homes at the peak of the spring crisis was partly to blame.
And last month it was revealed health bosses are pursuing the same catastrophic policy again, in an attempt to free up NHS beds to protect the health service from being overwhelmed this winter.