Residents' relatives are treated as key workers and tested weekly for Covid-19 for safe visits as part of a new study.
Health Secretary Helen Whately told MPs today that a pilot project would be launched shortly to see if the strategy would work. At a meeting with MPs today, she said she wanted to allow a visit "but it has to be safe".
Dozens of nursing homes have already closed their doors to visitors in the face of a "second wave" of Covid-19, raising fears that older residents will again be left without company. In the UK, nursing home visits were completely banned at the height of the pandemic.
Activists have called for a certain relative to be given "key worker" status and regularly tested for coronavirus to make visits safer, amid residents' concern that is deteriorating in isolation.
Ms. Whately announced today that Ministers had backed up and told the Science and Technology and Health and Social Welfare Committees that plans to give dependents full-time worker status so they can be tested regularly and receive PPE "Move forward".
Tens of thousands of vulnerable care home residents died in the UK in the spring of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
This was partly attributed to agency staff moving between nursing homes and being pressured to admit elderly patients discharged from hospitals without showing that they did not have Covid-19.
Ms. Whately said changes were made to prevent any of these events from happening again this winter and insisted that patients discharged from hospitals should be quarantined for 14 days.
And in a sharp warning of the dangers facing the sector as the disease continues to recover, Ms. Whately claimed nursing homes could not have been protected from the disease. She argued that evidence from around the world shows that no major outbreak country has managed to protect its most vulnerable residents.
Care workers, who were asked to testify in the same briefing earlier this morning, warned of a lack of access to PPE and rapid testing, which scientists believe are vital in containing the virus.
Theresa Steed, the manager of the Tunbridge Wells Care Center, welcomed any program that allowed relatives to see loved ones. But she said Tests are "only as good as the day they are issued" and their staff has had delays in test results of more than a week.
And Jane Townson, executive director of the UK Homecare Association, said there was "not enough PPE supply behind the scenes".
The urgent demand to treat relatives of nursing home residents as key workers and to test weekly to enable safe visits has led to the launch of a pilot project. Health Secretary Helen Whately, pictured today at the meeting of the Joint Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Services Committee, said a process would be launched "shortly."
Activists have called for a certain relative to be given "key worker" status and to be regularly tested for the coronavirus to make visits safer (inventory).
Committee chairman Jeremy Hunt asked Ms. Whately this morning about the idea of a designated "key worker."
She said, “To the point that nurses are treated as key personnel and they are therefore trained to wear PPE and be tested, I plan to start a pilot shortly.
"I can't give a date, but I can say we'll go ahead and control it."
Ms. Whately previously said in the House of Commons that she was "very sympathetic to the idea of a named relative being treated as a key worker and being tested regularly so they can continue to visit a loved one," said Hunt.
Although Ms. Whately said it was important for nursing home residents to see their families again, she admitted she was concerned about the risks.
She said, “Visits are incredibly important for residents and their families in nursing homes. I really want us to allow visits, but it has to be safe.
“I think you have to recognize that a visitor who takes in Covid not only endangers the individual visitor, but it is also very difficult to control Covid in a residential area. So it's not as simple as an agreement between resident and visitor. & # 39;
A ban on nursing home visits was lifted in the summer. But there are still barriers for families to see each other.
Theresa Steed, the manager of Tunbridge Wells Care Center, said her home now offers half-hour visitor space that can be booked in advance.
She said, “We opened up and they tried to book visits for a whole week, but we have to limit that because we have to try to accommodate other people as well. And that's hard to tell anyone can have that. & # 39;
She added: 'We're zooming in, WhatsApp. But for someone with dementia looking at WhatsApp on a tablet, it's like a picture, but it actually moves, but it's not like seeing your loved one. It's not like hugging or kissing. & # 39;
When asked by MP for Sevenoaks, Laura Trott, if she would support a system of named relatives, Ms. Steed said she would support anything that allows visits.
However, she said, "I would support that, but the test is only as good as the day it is issued."
Ms. Steed said her staff were tested weekly, but she had delays in returning test results, essentially invalidating the result.
Today's analysis by MailOnline found that half of people taking Covid-19 tests in England have to wait at least 48 hours for their results, despite Boris Johnson promising to turn all swabs within a day by early July.
A male employee tested positive for Covid-19 in September, nine days after the test. During this time he worked at home without showing the tell-tale symptoms.
Other social welfare experts have raised concerns about access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and the testing and tracking system.
If there are not enough PPE for family members and the testing and tracking system is not working efficiently – as SAGE warned in the documents released last night, the scheme for named relatives is set to failure.
Ms. Townson, General Manager of the UK Homecare Association said: “Vendors cannot access the quantities (of PPE) that we are told they should be able to order through the portal because there is simply not enough behind the scenes.
"So this really needs to be addressed as PPE is currently the largest additional cost besides staffing."
When asked if she had confidence in the government's testing and tracing system, she replied, "Unfortunately not."
Kathy Roberts, Chair of the Care Providers Alliance, expressed concern about NHS Test and Trace, adding, "No, I think testing has a long way to go".
During the first joint hearing, the Minister of Care was asked about the effects of the coronavirus on the social care sector and the knowledge gained.
In a chilling admission, Ms. Whately suggested that it would never have been possible to save nursing homes from the devastation of the coronavirus, as transmission was already high in the UK.
She said, looking at countries internationally, "the most common factor when there were many deaths in nursing homes was the level of community transmission".
"When transmission is widespread in the community, it's really difficult to keep it out of nursing homes," she said.
She added, “I think this is a really important point and timely when there has been a debate about the extent of the restrictions that should be in place and suggestions that you could essentially mothball those who are more vulnerable.
“But what we know, and what other countries have seen, is that nursing homes are essentially part of your community.
“It is not clear that countries where the ban on visitors was very strict necessarily had fewer deaths in nursing homes.
"For example, Spain introduced a very early ban on visiting but actually had a big problem with maintenance."
Well into the winter, Ms. Whately said that as of September, employees will only be allowed to work in one environment to reduce the spread of infections.
Agency employees who are filling the gaps in staff shortages have been identified as drivers of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes because they were able to transmit the coronavirus from one house to another.
Ms. Whately told MPs it was now "mandated" and no longer just a guide for agency staff to stick to one location.
"We have moved from leadership to stating that this must be the case, and this is again supported by the second round of the Infection Control Fund, which recognizes the additional costs," she told the committee.
Hunt spoke to Ms. Whately about why this had not been the case before, as countries like Canada and Israel had banned temporary workers at the start of the pandemic, which Ms. Whately raised concerns about staff shortages.
She said, “There has been major concern that if you put an outright and immediate ban on you could end up with nursing homes that simply didn't have enough staff to care for their residents.
“We saw early in the pandemic, I remember looking at other countries like Spain that were ahead of the curve in rates. People died in nursing homes because the staff had just left. And the military found abandoned nursing homes.
“We didn't want anyone to be neglected like that. We had to make sure there was enough staff to look after the people. & # 39;
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