Care home staff will be asked to take rapid COVID-19 tests twice a week, in addition to the weekly PCR test they have already been receiving, as part of urgent government action to protect those most at risk.
The action is part of a plan that has been accelerated in light of the new, more-transmissible, strain of COVID-19.
And, in the event of a positive test in a Tier 4 care home, all staff will additionally be tested daily for seven days.
This will be supported by an additional £149m to fund costs associated with testing staff and to more safely support family visits in areas outside of Tier 4.
Our priority is to keep care home residents and staff safe, and we have been working hard to make the most of our testing capacity to help people reunite with loved ones as safely as possible
The money will also pay for care home providers to set up safe testing areas, provide staff training, and contribute towards staff time spent on administering and receiving the tests.
This is in addition to the more than £1.1billion Infection Control Fund and is supported by over 16 million rapid tests and 46 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered for free to care homes over the last month.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “We have worked throughout the pandemic to protect staff and residents in care homes, and today we are boosting rapid testing in care homes, with a further £149m to support that effort.
“All those who work in care homes across England will receive two rapid tests a week, in addition to their weekly PCR test.
“Visits to care homes can still take place in Tier 4 with arrangements, such as substantial screens or visiting pods, but, for the safety of loved ones, close-contact indoor visits supported by testing cannot take place in Tier 4 areas.
“Outside of Tier 4 areas friends and family are able to visit relatives in care homes that are not currently experiencing an outbreak if they receive a negative result prior to the visit, wear PPE, and follow all other infection prevention and control measures.
“This approach seeks to achieve the right balance between the increased risk of infection transmission and the clear benefits to the mental and physical health of residents and their families that visiting enables.”
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, added: “Our priority is to keep care home residents and staff safe, and we have been working hard to make the most of our testing capacity to help people reunite with loved ones as safely as possible.
This approach seeks to achieve the right balance between the increased risk of infection transmission and the clear benefits to the mental and physical health of residents and their families that visiting enables
“Now, in the face of this new strain, which spreads much more quickly, we are increasing testing in all care homes to help protect those most at risk.
“This £149m grant will give care homes the tools and support they need to test staff regularly and safely reunite families kept apart because of COVID-19.”
Stopping staff movement in, and between, care settings is critical to minimise the risk of infection of COVID-19 and other viral illnesses.
However, if care homes need to use staff who work in multiple locations in order to maintain safe staffing levels, rapid tests will help to manage the increased risk.”
The new strain transmits more easily than the previous variant, but there is no evidence that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.
Care homes which are facing an outbreak will not be able to receive visitors, apart from in exceptional circumstances such as end of life.
This £149m grant will give care homes the tools and support they need to test staff regularly and safely reunite families kept apart because of COVID-19
And care homes will manage the number of visits to ensure they can enable safe visiting and the programme will be continuously reviewed.
The money will be distributed via local authorities with allocations announced within days.
The grant will cover the infrastructure costs of the expanded testing programme, including setting up testing areas and resource costs, including gaining consent for tests, supervising the use of PPE and swab tests, and then processing and logging the results.