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Care chief calls for testing to be widened to care home visitors

16 October, 2020

A Dorset care home group director is calling for the government to allow Covid-19 testing in care homes to be expanded to visitors to help preserve vital contact with loved ones.

Mandy Kittlety, managing director of Luxurycare which operates five homes in Bournemouth and Poole, has added her voice to the growing campaign against isolation in care homes. She is urging the government to give the care sector “the tools it needs” to manage the Covid-19 risk, while maintaining visits which are so vital for residents’ mental and emotional health.

Ms Kittlety says Luxurycare has in place robust infection control, including PPE for all staff and social distancing measures, and has asked families to name just one designated visitor for each resident, but she wants to be free to offer visitors weekly Covid-19 testing across the five care homes, in the same way that their staff are tested.

“Testing visitors, as well as residents and staff members, is the only way to close the circle, short of stopping visits altogether which we feel leaves residents, particularly those with dementia, feeling isolated and distressed,” said Ms Kittlety.

“While we ask people to stay away if they are feeling unwell, we know that regular testing is the only way to pick up non-symptomatic infections. Identifying these ‘invisible’ cases, combined with our other measures, enables us to prevent the spread of the virus – as we have already seen after two members of staff recently tested positive despite being free of symptoms.

“If we could offer nominated visitors weekly testing it would increase the safety of everyone in the home, at the same time as helping us stay open to visitors – something which is incredibly important for our residents and their families.”

As the pandemic resurges, care homes up and down the country are enforcing increasingly stringent restrictions such as only allowing families to see their loved ones through windows or Perspex partitions, or stopping visits altogether. In response, campaign groups have been formed to “end isolation in care”, with some even mounting a legal challenge against the government guidance that restricts family visits.

Along with many other providers, Luxurycare has sought to balance the dual priorities of managing the Covid-19 risk while continuing to prioritise compassion and supporting residents’ mental and emotional wellbeing. For example, family members can spend time with loved ones who are receiving end-of-life care, and homes even provide PPE ‘cuddle packs’ to allow for some physical contact between residents and visitors.

“Everyone in this industry wants to do the right thing and manage the risks from Covid-19,,” said Ms Kittlety.

“But the longer this situation continues, the more evidence we see of the psychological damage caused by keeping residents apart from the people they love. It is heartbreakingly cruel.

“A balance has to be struck. We have done and continue to do everything in our power to make sure our residents can still safely see family members, but it seems to me that Covid-19 testing for visitors is the vital missing piece we need to get that balancing act right.”

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