By James Harrison Local Democracy Reporter

Families could miss out on visiting loved ones in care homes this Christmas due to issues with the rollout of rapid COVID-19 tests.

More than a million screening kits are due to be sent to facilities across England in a bid to allow guests in over the festive period.

But some managers are reportedly turning down the chance to use them over concerns about increased burdens on staff, as well as accuracy fears.

“Care homes have been offered access to lateral flow devices, which give a fairly rapid result, to try and support visiting for friends and family,” said Gerry Taylor, executive director of public health at Sunderland City Council.

“This is starting in Sunderland and is due to be in place this month (December), but not all care homes have had their lateral flow tests and they need to do a significant amount of work to put them in place.

“If care homes use lateral flow testing to support visiting, they still need to continue with general restrictions around infection control to protect residents.

“It’s a lot of work for care homes and it’s their decision how to implement that.”

Taylor was speaking at a meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board on 11 December.

Lateral flow kits can provide the results of a coronavirus test in as little as 20 minutes, with ministers hoping their rollout could allow safe visiting in care homes.

But fears have been raised over the number of ‘false negatives’ revealed in some studies, while others have suggested they may lead some to ignore official guidance on social distancing and other measures intended to stop the virus’s spread.

And some bosses have expresses concerns about the extra workload such a testing regime could force on to staff.

Cllr Louise Farthing, the city council’s cabinet member for Children, Education and Skills, said: “I think there has been a lot of coverage of care homes’ resistance or difficulty in using these.

“It is an extra job for them to do and many are already pushed for resources.

“I hope families aren’t disappointed because of the inability of care homes to open up more generally, particularly at the festive period.”