Visitors to nursing homes have been asked to regularly self-test for Covid-19 as part of new guidance issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
The latest guidance, which comes into effect on Monday, said “regular visitors should be advised to consider self-testing for Covid-19 twice weekly even when they have no symptoms”.
“Occasional visitors should be advised to consider self-testing for Covid-19 before their visit even if they have no symptoms,” it adds.
The new guidance has been issued in a bid to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus from the community to vulnerable or at-risk residents of long-term care facilities.
However, concerns have been raised about how the new rules may create further “uncertainty and inconsistency” around visitation.
Sage Advocacy, which provides advocacy and support services to older people, vulnerable adults and healthcare patients, said further clarification for residents and their families is needed.
According to Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, the organisation has already been contacted in advance by families of nursing home residents.
Ms Lennon has said that some nursing homes have informed visitors they will need to self-test for Covid-19 each time they enter a nursing home.
“Sage Advocacy is very aware that some nursing home providers have previously not adhered to HPSC guidance and introduced their own restrictions on visiting,” Ms Lennon said.
“We know for example that currently some nursing home providers have informed residents and families that their nursing home is 'closed' to visitors because community transmission of Covid-19 is extremely high.
“This action completely contravenes HPSC guidance which stresses that residents in nursing homes and other residential care facilities have a right to maintain meaningful relationships with people who are important to them.
The rights of residents must be respected and protected, and Sage Advocacy is alarmed that some nursing home providers may be denying residents the right to visitors.
The organisation said it was concerned about how the new HPSC guidance to visitors to consider self-testing for Covid-19 will be applied by nursing home providers.
“We want to ensure that the rights of residents will be protected and respected in relation to visiting,” Ms Lennon said.
“It is also important to remember that there will be costs incurred in purchasing antigen tests for self-testing which could be an issue for some visitors, particularly those who have to manage on low incomes and state pensions.”
She urged nursing home facilities to abide by the new rules, adding that the way in which HPSC guidance is being adhered to is currently monitored nationally.