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Matt Hancock said the Government is hoping to roll out visitor testing across the country by Christmas to avoid care home residents spending the holiday period alone. Many care homes have greatly limited visiting because of official guidance on how to best avoid infecting residents with the coronavirus after a high number of deaths in the first wave. But BBC Today host Nick Robinson questioned the Government’s guidance as he pointed out scientific advisers said visits in care homes could go ahead as early as June.
Mr Robinson said: “Forgive me but the thing that frustrates people is SAGE reported back in June that it was possible to have visits for care homes within risk-assessed parameters.
“People know there are visits even in places with very high infections, France for example, the Netherlands, there are visits.
“And they say, ‘we keep hearing words but we don’t see the action.”
Mr Hancock said: “Firstly, I’ve made the commitment that we will make this available to care homes across the country by Christmas.
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“As you say, there are several care homes, more than 10,000 of them, and they don’t report directly to me whether or not you think they should.
“This rollout will be a challenge but we’ve got to make sure the right rules and protocols are in place so that testing keeps people safe.”
He added: “There are many care homes that are doing this in a really compassionate way.
“Of course, we rightly hear the stories of where it’s not working well but there are places where the rules that are in place have that degree of flexibility and also keep people safe.”
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Bereaved relatives met with Care Minister Helene Whateley last week to demand the end of “inhumane” coronavirus guidance in care homes stopping them visiting their loved ones.
Ms Whately was met with a series of demands from the campaign group Rights for Residents, including calls for designated relatives or friends being allowed to regularly visit indoor without restrictions.
The Care Minister earlier this month unveiled new plans for “Covid-secure visiting areas” equipped with screens and windows after Mr Hancock had pledged to distribute 11,000 free iPads to avoid “unnecessary visits”.
A petition from Rights for Residents demanding the Government allow care home visits was set up by Jenny Morrison after she was told she could not visit her dementia-strikes mother Jean.
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Mr Morrison said: “The £7.5million Matt Hancock proposes to spend on iPads will not help the situation as many are unable to communicate this way.
“Technology is no substitute for human touch. This huge sum of money would be better spent on urgently rolling out rapid testing for care home staff, residents and relatives.”
Charities have also lamented the stringent visiting rules, with Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Kate Lee saying: “The prison-style screens the Government proposes – with people speaking through phones – are frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak.
“They won’t understand and will be distressed by what’s going on.”
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