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Rapid antigen testing pilot restores 'human touch' for Christmas visits

Barbara is feeling sleepy when Nick arrives for his visit. Her dementia means that she doesn’t recognise her son in his face mask.

A visit with a difference

But this visit to Garden House care home will be different to all the others Nick has made during the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, Nick can hold his mother’s hand and, after a patient twenty minutes of hand holding, stroking her arm and talking to her, the recognition is back in Barbara’s eyes.

We saw some amazing results over the Christmas period from residents being able to have physical contact with their loved-ones.

A result in minutes

Nick is one of many relatives benefitting from a Rapid Covid-19 Antigen pilot testing programme trialed in the dementia unit at St Monica Trust’s Garden House care home in Bristol over Christmas.

The Rapid Antigen Test only requires a nasal swab and can give results in a matter of minutes. It tests for asymptomatic individuals, with a high viral load, who could potentially spread the virus.

This means that family members, like Nick, are able to visit their loved-ones and experience the physical contact that has been missing since the pandemic started.

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A personal reason

The Rapid Antigen Testing Service was set up by Dr Tim Chesser, an NHS consultant at Southmead Hospital, who had a very personal reason for wanting to improve the visiting experience for relatives and residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Chesser explained: “Back in April, my mother passed away in a care home, frightened and unable to understand why her family couldn’t visit. I saw first-hand the huge stresses that existed in the sector.

“Many families have been distressed at the difficulties in visiting loved-ones and the fear of spreading infections. Residents are often bewildered by the visiting restrictions, which can add to confusion and a deterioration in their mental health.

“It is also an extremely sensitive dilemma for care home managers and staff who need to consider the needs of the individual, but also protect all residents and carers.”

A greater sense of normality

Using his contacts within the medical profession, Dr Chesser set up Breathe Assured to deliver solutions to the threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic, including rapid antigen testing.

Dr Chesser hopes that the rapid and accurate testing of visitors to care homes will give a greater sense of normality for people visiting their loved ones, until the vaccine is more widely available.

More frequent visits

Administered by trained staff at the care home, the test can give a result in less than fifteen minutes and is performed in addition to a health check and completion of a medical questionnaire.

Although Personal Protective Equipment, such as masks and aprons, must still be worn by visitors, and thorough handwashing or sanitising remains essential, the tests allow not just physical contact, but they will also enable more frequent visits from relatives in the future.

Feedback given by staff and visitors at Garden House on the pilot scheme, will help inform the development of testing protocols and the correct procedural reporting of test results to Public Health England, which it is hoped will benefit care homes across the UK.

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Amazing results

Fran Ashby is the Care Home Manager at Garden House. Fran said: “Rapid antigen testing is a real game-changer and we were delighted to take part in Breathe Assured’s pilot programme with the support of Public Health England.

“The sense of touch is so important for those who are living with dementia as their sight and cognitive abilities are impaired.

“We saw some amazing results over the Christmas period from residents being able to have physical contact with their loved-ones and those vital connections being restored.

"Although in-room visits to our care homes are now suspended due to the national lockdown, rapid testing will still have a vital part to play in enabling essential and end-of-life visits for loved-ones during this difficult time."

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Thriving on human contact

In one of those strange coincidences in life, Barbara also contracted Covid-19 in April of this year and at one point, Nick didn’t think she would live to see her 90th birthday.

Nick said: “It was wonderful to go in and see mum like this. It took a while for us to make that connection, but as soon as she could hear my voice and feel me holding her hand, then we were there.”

“As human beings we thrive on physical contact with each other and not being able to do that takes an enormous chunk out of normal human activity.

“It diminishes the quality of life for people who are used to having contact, especially between loved ones and that’s what’s been missing between a mother and her son for the last nine months.”

“Mum is one of life’s great survivors, but just as important, if not more so, is the level of nursing care she has had since she’s been at Garden House, which has been incredible.

“It’s been huge undertaking to arrange the testing at such short notice and I’m very grateful to the St Monica Trust for getting this organised.”

For further information on Garden House or any of the St Monica Trust’s care homes please contact our admissions team on 0800 952 0300 or e-mail carehomes@stmonicatrust.org.uk.

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