CARE homes across Romsey have praised a new pilot scheme that will give family members the chance to visit loved ones in care homes over Christmas.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said rapid tests for visitors – currently being trialled in Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall – should allow a rollout across England within weeks.

One family member or friend per resident will be offered regular testing, which is designed to be combined with PPE, so that visits can be carried out without a screen.

It comes after the US company Moderna announced on Monday a new coronavirus vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective, according to early data.

The news was revealed just a week after Pfizer and BioNTech said their experimental vaccine can offer 90 per cent protection against the deadly bug.

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CEO of Sears Healthcare, Richard Adams, which runs Durban House in Woodley Lane, welcomed the news, believing it could be the key to unlocking face-to-face visits again.

He said: "This pilot recognises the vital role that family play in people’s care. It is the key to providing a route back to genuine visits, rather than people being separated by screens and windows.

"I hope that we will be able to see some outcomes in time roll out more widely before the Christmas period."

Romsey Advertiser: A stock photo of a resident in a care homeA stock photo of a resident in a care home

Manager of Woodley Grange Care Home in Winchester Hill, Amanda Cooper, said: "It's an absolutely brilliant idea and I know we cannot wait to open our doors again, but we have to make sure the tests are accurate and people will still be wearing masks when they visit.

"We are creating a room now where there will be a screen in the middle from the ceiling to the floor, so visitors will come through the patio door and residents can enter the room from inside the care home.

"There will be a two-way speaker in there as well, so people can hear each other, because we want people to see their families so it is just making sure it is done in a secure environment and keeps everybody safe."

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She added the scheme must demonstrate staff members can be protected, since "they are the ones going home to their families".

Homes admissions advisor for Abbotswood Court Care Home in Minchin Road, Annya Sait, said: "We look forward to seeing how the trials go and if they are successful we look forward to offering that in our home."