People visiting care homes in England will have to pay for Covid test | Coronavirus

People visiting care homes in England will have to pay for Covid tests from April, Downing Street has said, prompting criticism from relatives’ groups, charities and opposition MPs.

While the full details of precisely who will still be eligible for free tests when charges are introduced from 1 April has yet to be set out, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed those visiting care homes would not be included.

“This [free testing] is targeted at the most vulnerable and frontline staff,” he said. While NHS and care staff will have free tests if they show Covid symptoms, it remains to be decided if they will have access to wider asymptomatic testing, with the health department and NHS England setting this out “in due course”, he added.

The current guidance for visiting people in care homes is that “visitors should receive a negative lateral flow test result and report it on the day of their visit, either by conducting the test at home or when they arrive at the care home”.

The Relatives and Residents Association (R&RA) said that if this guidance was to remain in place it was “unfair” to ask people to pay for tests to see their loved ones, or expect financially stressed care homes to pay.

“To say, given all you have been through and all the relationships that have been ruined [by visiting restrictions] that you can start rebuilding those relationships but you have to pay for tests seems unfair and extraordinary,” said Helen Wildbore, director of the R&RA.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the idea was a “tax on caring”.

He said: “It is simply unjust and unfair to force people to pay hundreds of pounds a year to safely visit their loved ones. It will make vulnerable people more alienated, more lonely, and act as a barrier for family and friends getting together. We must stop this tax on caring.”

Ruth Driscoll, head of public affairs for the charity Marie Curie, which assists people with terminal illness, said the change would be a concern to many such people and their families.

While at least some vulnerable groups will continue to have access to free symptomatic testing, it must be clarified that people with a terminal illness, their loved ones, and all those working with them will be included in this,” she said.

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: “Over the last year or so many older people have felt safe enough to see loved ones only because everyone has taken a lateral flow test beforehand, to provide reassurance. There’s now definitely a risk that some older people and their families will feel much less certain about meeting face to face, if they are unable to access these tests or feel they can’t afford them.”

Following the announcement on Monday of the end of free tests from 1 April, part of the end of all domestic Covid restrictions in England, pharmacists have reported attempts to hoard lateral flow tests.

Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told the Guardian her members were worried that some vulnerable people were going to be miss out amid a rush for tests, with some people seeking to get around the limit of two packs of test per customer.

“There’s nothing to stop different members of the same family coming in at different times in order to get more. We’ve had reports of that. At the same time, local pharmacists have a relationship with their customers and we really want to make sure that people are not left out and get what they need,” she said.

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