Visits from loved ones are what makes life worth living for many care home residents, yet, sadly, these have been too few over the last few months. Unlike the first lockdown, during this period of national restrictions, we want visits to be able to continue. That is why we published new guidance on 5 November advising care homes of the steps that they can take to allow safe visiting while there are high rates of covid in the community. Yesterday, we launched our visitor testing trial and plan to offer visitor testing to care homes across the country by Christmas.
There are almost 2,000 people living with dementia in Lewisham and for those in residential care, a lack of social interaction through visits can cause their condition to deteriorate. Testing for family and friends is the way forward, but the Government’s pilot for this was launched only this week and just 20 care homes are included. With the festive period rapidly approaching, why was this not done months ago, and is it not just another example of the Government delivering too little, too late?
We have been testing and have prioritised testing in care homes going back as far as May, and we have been carrying out whole care home testing. We are now testing over 500,000 staff and residents in care homes every week. Now, as testing capacity increases, we are launching the visitor testing trial with 20 care homes across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. We will use the lessons from that trial to roll out testing more widely across the country as fast as we possibly can.
I am afraid the Government’s pilot scheme simply fails to understand the scale or urgency of the task. The average time someone spends in a care home before they pass away is two years, so after eight months of not being able to visit, families do not have a moment to lose. If the Government believe that weekly tests make it safe for care home staff to go to work, why not just do the same for families? Will the Minister now agree that a proportion of the 157,000 tests that are currently spare capacity every day will be ring-fenced for family visits so that we can safely bring all families back together in time for Christmas?
I absolutely want to enable relatives to go and visit their loved ones in care homes, but we have to remember that we are against a backdrop where covid is incredibly cruel to those living in care homes. We have seen outbreaks that have gone from one resident across to almost all residents within a few days, with staff also affected, so we have to get the balance right. We have to make sure that we do this in a way that is safe to residents and staff. That is why we are carrying out the trial to learn the lessons, so that we do it right and so we can then safely roll out testing and more visiting across the whole country.