Care Home visitors to pay for Covid-19 Lateral Flow Tests?
People visiting care homes in England will have to pay for Covid tests from April, the Government has said.
Although the guidance for visiting care homes was updated by the government on 15 March 2022 such that lateral flow testing is no longer required for visitors, many care homes may still want visitors to complete these tests in order to avoid Covid-19 outbreaks.
Pharmacy organisations have raised the concern that stocks of lateral flow tests could run out amid a rush before charging comes in on 1 April. People are now only able to order a pack of seven tests every three days, rather than every 24 hours.
Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said her members were worried that some vulnerable people were going to miss out amid a rush for tests, with some people seeking to get around the limit of two packs of tests each.
The full details of who will be eligible for free tests when charges are introduced have yet to be set out, but are expected in the coming weeks. Those eligible are expected to include people over 80 or with compromised immune systems, as well as NHS and care staff who show Covid symptoms.
However, an official spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that care home visitors would not be included in those groups being offered free tests stating “This [free testing] is targeted at the most vulnerable and frontline staff”. NHS and care staff would have free tests if they showed Covid symptoms, however, it remained to be decided whether they would have access to wider asymptomatic testing, with the health department and NHS England setting this out “in due course”, he added. This decision has brought criticism from many.
The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) has said that if this guidance was to remain in place it was unfair to ask people to pay for tests to see their loved ones, or to expect financially stressed care homes to pay.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the idea was a “tax on caring”. He said: “It is simply unjust and unfair to force people to pay hundreds of pounds a year to safely visit their loved ones. It will make vulnerable people more alienated, more lonely, and act as a barrier for family and friends getting together. We must stop this tax on caring.”
Ruth Driscoll, the head of public affairs for the charity Marie Curie, which assists people with terminal illnesses, said the change would be a concern to many families. “While at least some vulnerable groups will continue to have access to free symptomatic testing, it must be clarified that people with a terminal illness, their loved ones, and all those working with them will be included in this,” she said.
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said: “Over the last year or so many older people have felt safe enough to see loved ones only because everyone has taken a lateral flow test beforehand, to provide reassurance. There’s now definitely a risk that some older people and their families will feel much less certain about meeting face to face, if they are unable to access these tests or feel they can’t afford them.”
The Alzheimer’s Society has stated ‘Free lateral flow tests are a crucial part of protecting people living in care homes, 70 per cent of whom have dementia, and it is essential their loved ones have free access to them so they can visit safely. The charity is so concerned that its chief executive, Kate Lee, has written to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid urging an immediate rethink on the changes.
Anecdotally, we are aware of some placements which are funding testing for relatives, but there is no guarantee that they will continue to do so, or that all care homes will take this approach. It may be the case that more care homes decide that they can no longer insist on lateral flow testing for visitors.