Rapid testing for care home visitors
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Rapid testing for care home visitors
Visiting guidance, new testing measures for visitors, what happens after the test and what safety measures must remain in place.
New guidance for care home visiting (GOV.UK) came into force from 2 December 2020.
Care home staff and managers should allow and support visits from friends and relatives as long as:
- there are precautions in place to manage risks (GOV.UK)
- these are limited as much as possible to the same two visitors every time in order to prevent transmission of the virus
Rapid testing to support care home visits
New tests, known as lateral flow tests, will be given to Care Quality Commission (CQC) registered care homes in December.
A lateral flow test is a swab test that gives results in less than one hour. The test checks if the person is infectious, even if they don’t have symptoms.
There are enough of these to test two visitors per resident twice a week by Christmas.
Tests must be administered by staff at the care home in a safe space, meaning a testing area which allows social distancing, complies with safety regulations, has ready access to hand hygiene and is well ventilated.
Appointments must be booked in advance with the care home.
Training and risks assessment
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) will contact care homes to give guidance, webinars and NHS training.
Care homes must complete the training before using these tests and the registered manager should conduct a risk assessment for carrying out the new testing process.
As this is extra work for care homes, they should make their own assessment of how practical it is to use this test as part of their visiting arrangements based on a risk assessment to support their decision.
After a visitor takes the test
If the test is positive, it means the person is infectious and must take a standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. The care home can give visitors who tested positive with the lateral flow test, a standard PCR test on site and get these tests to a laboratory by a DHSC courier. Those who test positive must then go straight home, self-isolate and must not visit anybody.
If the test is negative, the visit can go ahead but the visitor must still use PPE and follow the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures in place. This is because a negative test means the visitor is not highly infectious but there’s a chance they could still be positive for COVID-19.
What safety measures must remain in place
Lateral flow tests are not as precise as standard PCR tests and do not completely remove the risks of infection.
The lateral flow tests cannot replace:
- Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures (NHS.UK)
- care home PCR testing, which must still be undertaken weekly for staff and monthly for residents
- appropriate PPE equipment for visitors, such as face masks
- government guidance (GOV.UK), such as social distancing and washing hands frequently
Visitors must also make sure they follow the care home’s guidance on physical contact with the person they’re visiting.