Nicola Sturgeon has said routine testing of care home visitors is being considered as she seeks to allay fears about the easing of restrictions for the care sector.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, the First Minister stressed no final decision has been made.
But she said those visiting care homes are “clearly” a group who may be considered for coronavirus testing in an effort to protect vulnerable people.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Our initial, top priority focus in extending testing is protection of vulnerable groups.
“Those groups – and care homes are definitely one of them – where if the virus gets into them, it does really bad damage.
“So people going in and out of care homes is clearly one such group that we would look to consider for testing in the future.”
She added: “Obviously, that then raises the logistical issues about how exactly that would be done, how often visitors to care homes would have to be tested.
“These are the practical things that will now be considered before we reach a decision on that.”
Ms Sturgeon suggested MSPs will be able to consider whether to introduce routine testing for care home visitors when Holyrood returns from the October recess.
She also stressed relaxed care home rules are guidance and “not a diktat”, amid concerns raised by some care home bosses about the changes.
On Monday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced an increase in the time allowed for indoor visits from 30 minutes to four hours, while hugs and holding hands will be permitted if strict PPE and infection prevention control measures are met.
Outdoor visits are also now allowed to include up to six people from one or two households up to an hour in length.
Concerns have been raised about the “premature and ill-thought-out” measures by the chairman of Balhousie Care Group, which runs 25 care homes across Scotland and has decided not to change from the previous restrictions.
Tony Banks said: “While we welcome improved and enhanced care home visits, and fully appreciate the wellness benefits more visits would bring our residents, yesterday’s announcement was premature and ill-thought-out.
“Why, in the middle of another sharp spike in community transmissions of Covid-19, would we relax our rules and put our residents and staff at possible risk of infection?”
Asked about the decision to ease restrictions on care home visits against the backdrop of rising cases and deaths, Ms Sturgeon said: “Recognising the stress and anxiety and trauma often suffered by families who can’t see frail loved ones in care homes, we’ve tried to put in place guidance to have as much visiting as possible on as safe a basis as possible.
“But I would stress it is guidance, not a diktat that all care homes must have that level of visiting if there are risk factors.”
She added it is not a “free for all” for care homes to allow more visiting as they still have to meet safety requirements such as routine testing of staff and be free of Covid-19 for 28 days.
Ms Sturgeon also said work is continuing to transfer the processing of routine tests of health and social care staff from the UK-wide network to NHS Scotland.
She insisted there is no issue with capacity but it is being done to “try to shorten the turnaround time for tests”.
It follows reports of seven-day waits for staff to receive their test results at care homes where residents have died.
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