Relatives of care home residents in England will be able to hug their loved ones before Christmas if they test negative for coronavirus and wear protective equipment, the Government has pledged.
The Government said it is committed to providing twice-weekly testing to up to two visitors by Christmas, and care home staff will receive twice-weekly tests by the end of December.
And testing of residents will be increased in December to once a week.
Currently, staff are tested weekly and residents are tested monthly, with a pilot scheme in around 20 homes in England seeing visitors receive regular tests.
The Government has previously said it aims to expand the pilot across England before Christmas.
But care home provider groups have said the Government must rapidly make more funds available if it is to make good this pledge.
Its winter plan, published on Monday, reads: “The Government is committed, by Christmas, to providing twice weekly testing to enable all care home residents to have regular visits from up to two visitors.
“If a visitor has a negative test, is wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and follows other infection control measures, then it will be possible for visitors to have physical contact with their loved one, such as providing personal care, holding hands and hugging.”
The Government said detailed guidance will be published shortly.
Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “After eight harrowing months filled with devastation and tragic loss of life, we’re relieved that the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of family carers allowing up to two visitors per resident, tested twice a week.
“However, we need to keep up momentum with weekly updates on the testing pilot as it mustn’t be used as an excuse to delay national rollout – people shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas.”
Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “There is a lot of progress and reasons to be positive, however there are certainly a lot of challenges, some easier than others.”
He added: “The news about visiting is positive, but again an array of issues that need to be thought through and we cannot be too hasty with people’s lives at stake.”
The Government also said it will introduce legislation requiring care home providers to restrict “all but essential” movement of staff between settings with the aim of reducing transmission.
It follows a week-long consultation period, which ended on Monday, during which care provider groups warned that it will be difficult to implement the measures.
Vic Rayner, director of the National Care Forum, said the proposals would be “really challenging to implement”.
Care England said it will create a “host of unintended consequences”, including accentuating the issue of staff shortages and affecting staff mental health and levels of fatigue.
The membership body believes increased testing for staff would mean there would be no need to limit staff movement.
Prof Green said: “It is inconceivable that on the very day that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) closed its consultation for the movement of staff the Government announced legislation by the end of the year to prohibit movement. We need to get to the bottom of this as something has gone awry”.