Government plans to enable every care home to resume visiting by Christmas have been dealt a blow after a council instructed providers not to use later flow tests over safety fears.
Sheffield City Council has paused the rapid testing programme over fears that results from the tests are inaccurate.
Greg Fell, Director of Public Health in Sheffield, said: “The safety of residents, staff and visitors in care homes is of paramount importance to us. We are waiting for guidance from DHSC on operational protocols and looking at training requirements and results handling for lateral flow testing kits (LFT). This will mean that we can then hopefully use this test as part of making care homes visiting as safe as possible.
“Lateral flow testing is part of a bigger rollout of using lateral testing across all areas, not just care homes, which is managed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). This process is independent of the council and the local health system.
“We just want to know that LFT kits can be used safely to give accurate results in high risk sensitive settings such as care homes and we’re seeking clarity on that from the DHSC. SAGE have not yet published evidence on this question, and we are waiting to see this before we take the next step.”
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, called for urgent guidance from the government after the doubts were raised.
“We are in a no-win situation here. On the one hand the death rates are continuing to rise and there are doubts about the accuracy of the LFT the government wants us to use,” Mike said.
“On the other hand, we do want to enable relatives to be able to visit their loved ones, especially as we approach the festive season.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We understand the pain and very real consequences of loved ones being separated, and we are doing everything we can to allow people to come together and help improve the wellbeing of residents.
“We must also get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring staff and residents of all ages in care homes are safe and well, while preventing the transmission of from COVID-19.
“We are trialling testing of visitors to people in care homes to give families more opportunities to reunite and evaluations from Public Health England and the University of Oxford show these tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community, including for asymptomatic people.”