Thousands of people in North Yorkshire are forced to pay more than £70 a month to safely visit loved ones living with dementia in nursing homes following a controversial decision to cancel free lateral flow tests from 1 April.
The announcement, included in the government’s Living with Covid-19 plan, was called a potentially “deadly mistake” by the Alzheimer’s Society, Britain’s leading dementia charity.
The charity is so concerned that its chief executive, Kate Lee, wrote to Health and Welfare Minister Sajid Javid urging him to immediately rethink the changes.
Linda Huggie, Alzheimer’s Society Regional Manager for North Yorkshire, said: “Free lateral blood flow tests are an important part of protecting people living with dementia in nursing homes and it is important that their loved ones have easy access to them so that they could visit them safely.” .
“The lack of testing when people were discharged to nursing homes early in the pandemic has left tens of thousands of residents infected with the virus, and by not offering free tests to visitors, the government risks repeating the same deadly mistake.
“Earlier this week, Boots announced they would be selling sets of five lateral flow tests starting in early March, priced at £12.
It is estimated that at least 70% of nursing home residents have dementia, and their families, already hit by soaring living costs, now face having to shell out even more money to keep their loved ones safe or at risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
A study by the Alzheimer’s Society shows that 900,000 people in the UK have dementia, including more than 10,000 in North Yorkshire and more than 76,000 in all of Yorkshire and the Humber region. People with the condition have been hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 30,000 people dying from the virus.
Linda Haggi said: “A reduction in free community testing will leave family members and caregivers desperate to keep their loved ones safe at a time when the cost of living is already rising.
“Abandoning the need for people to self-isolate after a positive test will also make many feel anxious about contracting the coronavirus as they try to get on with their lives.
“Social isolation has already taken an untold toll on people with dementia, and now the government must ensure that its Living with Covid-19 plan works for everyone, not just those who are less vulnerable to the coronavirus.”
The Alzheimer’s Society is calling for nursing home visitation policies to be as clear as possible, as well as rules for self-isolation and access to PPE for medical and nursing staff.
The charity wants free sidestream testing for everyone living with dementia and those caring for them, and to see the over 75 booster drive prioritize nursing homes and those receiving home care.
Linda Haggi added: “Now it is vital that we learn from the pandemic and provide protection and support for people with dementia who are still suffering from its effects.”
Join the Alzheimer’s Society’s campaign to provide support and protection for people with dementia after visiting and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. alzheimers.org.uk/campaign*The £73 figure is based on daily sidestream test costs of £2.40 over 365 days divided by 12 months.