Thousands of families in Bristol could have to pay up to £70 a month to be allowed to visit elderly relatives in care homes, a charity boss has warned.
Lorna Robertson, who is the area manager in Bristol for the Alzheimer’s Society, said the decision by the Government to end the free availability of lateral flow tests will hit the relatives of people in care homes hard – if they want to continue making sure they are not passing on Covid to their vulnerable relatives.
The Alzheimer’s Society estimate that, at the price proposed by Boots for a pack of lateral flow tests is the standard, it will cost around £70 a month for anyone who has to do daily tests to visit elderly relatives in care homes.
Read more: Bristolians urged to ‘be mindful of others’ as Covid restrictions end
The charity labeled the announcement – which was part of the Government’s ‘Living With Covid-19’ plan – was a ‘deadly mistake’.
From April 1, the Government intends to scrap free lateral flow tests. Already, Boots have announced that they’ll be selling a pack of five lateral flow tests for £12 within the next few days.
“Free lateral flow tests are a crucial part of protecting people living with dementia in care homes, and it is essential their loved ones have free access to them so they can visit safely,” said Lorna Robertson, from the Alzheimer’s Society in Bristol.
“A lack of testing when people were shockingly discharged into care homes at the start of the pandemic resulted in tens of thousands of residents catching the virus and by not offering free tests to visitors the Government is in danger of repeating the same, deadly mistake,” she added.
Research from the charity shows that there are around 900,000 people in the UK with some form of dementia, including 4,700 in Bristol.
More than 30,000 people with Alzheimer’s were killed by Covid in the two years of the pandemic so far – mostly in the early stages when the Government ordered NHS hospitals to discharge patients into care homes without testing them for Covid, creating outbreaks that touched every care home in the country.
“The scaling back of free community testing will put family members and carers, desperate to keep their loved ones safe, out of pocket at a time when the cost of living is already rising,” added Lorna.
“Ending the need for people to self-isolate after a positive test will also leave many feeling anxious about catching coronavirus as they try to get on with their lives.
“Social isolation has already wrought untold devastation on people affected by dementia and the Government must now ensure that its Living with Covid-19 plan works for everyone, not just those less vulnerable to coronavirus,” she said.
Alzheimer’s Society is calling for care home visiting guidelines to be as clear as possible, along with rules on self-isolation and access to PPE for health and care staff.
The charity wants free lateral flow testing for everyone living with dementia and their carers, and to see the over-75 booster drive prioritise care homes and those receiving care in their own homes.
Lorna Robertson added: “It is now vital that we learn the lessons of the pandemic and ensure that we protect and support people with dementia who are still suffering from its impact,” she added.
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