Thousands of people in Bedfordshire will face paying £70 a month to safely visit loved ones living with dementia in care homes following a controversial decision to scrap free lateral flow tests from April 1
The announcement, included in the Government’s ‘Living With Covid-19’ plan, has been labelled a potentially ‘deadly mistake’ by Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia charity.
The charity is so concerned that its Chief Executive, Kate Lee, has written to Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid urging an immediate rethink on the changes.
Tina Kierman, Area Manager for Alzheimer’s Society in Bedfordshire said: “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.
“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.”
Earlier this week Boots announced they would be selling packs of five lateral flow tests for £12 from early March, meaning those wishing to visit loved ones daily will have to pay £73 per calendar month.
It’s estimated that at least 70% of care home residents have dementia and their families, already impacted by the soaring cost of living, now face having to shell out even more money to ensure the safety of their loved ones or risk passing on coronavirus.
Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 900,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, with more than 8,000 people living in Bedfordshire. Those with the condition were the worst hit by the pandemic, with more than 30,000 losing their lives to the virus.
Tina said: “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.
“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.”
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.
Tina 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.”
The Department for Health and Social Care is expected to announce which at-risk groups will be eligible for free symptomatic testing which could include people over 80 or with compromised immune systems, as well as NHS and social care staff.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “As set out in the government’s Living With Covid plan, the approach to managing Covid-19 in adult social care services will continue to evolve in the coming months. We will continue to focus on providing care for those that need it and supporting people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.”
To join Alzheimer’s Society’s campaign to ensure people affected by dementia are supported and protected in the aftermath and recovery of the coronavirus pandemic visit alzheimers.org.uk/campaign