FAMILY are set to be reunited with their loved ones living in care homes after Hampshire has been chosen to take part in a pilot scheme to offer relatives regular Covid-19 tests.

The county was chosen along with Cornwall and Devon to pioneer the new system which will see a designated visitor given access to tests so they can visit a care home safely.

Around 20 care homes will be included in the trial before a wider roll-out in December.

The scheme launched on Monday, with regular testing offered to one family member or friend per resident.

When combined with other infection control measures such as PPE, it will allow indoor visits with a screen to take place.

Visitors will be offered either PCR tests which they can do at home, or the new 30-minute rapid lateral flow tests (LFTs), which can be administered in person at care homes before a visit.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how heart-breaking restricting visits to care homes has been, not only for residents, many of whom will feel disoriented and confused by the situation, but also their loved ones who aren’t able to simply hug each other to support them in this difficult time.

“Thanks to the expanding testing capacity we have in place we can now begin to trial a new way to allow safer visits to take place and prevent the spread of Covid-19. I must stress this is only possible if the public takes the right actions now to bring the transmission rate under control while national restrictions are in place.

“By respecting social distancing and staying at home as much as possible we will help reunite families and friends with loved ones in care homes as quickly as possible.

“We will be encouraging and supporting care homes to facilitate visits to go ahead in a Covid-secure way wherever possible.”

Minister for Care Helen Whately added: “The pandemic has torn many lives apart, but few have been more affected than people living in care homes and their families. I know visits from loved ones are what makes life worth living for many care home residents, yet these have been few and far between over the last few months. Visits with a screen or window are better than nothing for many, but they are too confusing or simply impossible for people with advanced dementia.”

She said care home visitors are “at the font of the queue” as the government brings in more testing, adding: “As Christmas approaches, I want to bring an end to the pain of separation and help care homes bring families and loved ones together. The launch of visitor testing is a crucial step to making that happen.”

The pilot, which forms part of plans to roll out mass testing technology across the country, has been made possible thanks to a huge expansion in the country’s testing capacity, which the government says currently stands at more than 500,000 a day.

Each care home will initially receive a box of 675 LFTs and given access to more as required.

Hampshire has been chosen as one of the counties to trial the pilot because of its lower transmission rate of Covid.

Any decisions on a national roll-out will be taken in light of the latest available data on transmission rates as a result of national Covid-19 restrictions.

The government has ring-fenced 120,000 tests every day solely for the care sector.

Councillor Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council’s executive member for adult social care and health, said: “We are delighted to be taking part in this innovative pilot which is going to help residents to receive visits from their loved ones more regularly and with added reassurance, whilst also paving the way for a wider roll out of this approach nationally.

“Here in Hampshire, we have been working hard to enable visits to go ahead at all our care homes where possible, with appropriate safeguards in place and in line with national guidance - to protect residents, visitors and staff.

“We know that the pandemic has meant limits to contact with residents which has been extremely challenging, and I’d like to thank everyone for their continued understanding and support. As more testing options become possible and vaccines are introduced, we look forward to bringing more families and friends together as soon as possible.”