Lateral flow tests could cost care home visitors £73 a month

Lateral flow tests could cost care home visitors £73 a month, a leading UK charity has said, as it renewed calls to keep the devices free in such settings.

Nicola Davis 

The government has previously announced that free testing for the general public will end from 1 April, and that this will include care home visitors.

However, charities have warned the shift away from free tests could place a heavy financial burden on those visiting care homes, where testing is still advised.

Boots has announced it will offer the devices at £2.50 for one or £12 for a pack of five, or £17 for a pack of four with the extra option to send results to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

James White, the head of public affairs and campaigns at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the proposed charge on lateral flow tests for visitors to care homes was a cruel tax on care.

“Over the past two years, we’ve consistently heard many tragic stories from families struggling to visit their loved ones in care homes. For many people with dementia, this isolation has led to a significant deterioration in their condition and mental health,” he said.

“With infection rates rising once again, the government must provide free lateral flow tests for all visitors to care homes so that families are not put in an agonising position where they are forced to ration visits, leaving people with dementia once again isolated and alone.”

Dr Sam Royston, the director of policy and research at Marie Curie, which runs hospices, also raised concerns.

“Without the provision of free testing, many people living with a terminal illness and their families will face additional costs at a time when we know people are often struggling. This extra cost would put further strain and pressure on people’s lives at a time when their basic living costs are already rising exponentially due to the high cost of living and energy,” he said.

“For those who can’t afford the extra financial burden of paying for testing, this could lead to more people facing further social isolation towards the end of life.”

The Alzheimer’s Society is running a petition to keep testing free for care home visitors – which has been signed by more than 7,000 people – with the charity suggesting there are a number of options to do so, including providing tests to care homes or sending weekly tests to essential caregivers.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “No one should have to pay out of their own pocket for tests in circumstances where the expert advice is clear that testing remains an important safeguard against Covid,” she said.

“If care home visitors are going to continue to be asked to keep testing to protect their loved ones, it would be completely unacceptable to expect them to pay.”

The concerns come as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests infection levels in the UK are on the rise once more, with the proportion of those over 70 who had Covid in the most recent week the highest since the ONS survey began.

The Department of Health and Social Care currently advises that testing for visitors to care homes should continue, in line with the wider care home testing regime.

However the Guardian understands measures around testing as well as infection, prevention and control measures – including for care home visiting – are currently under review. The DHSC has said further details are to be set out by 1 April.

The DHSC is also soon expected to announce which at-risk groups will be eligible for free symptomatic testing. At present, it is thought this will 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.”