Care homes across Scotland may not ease visiting restrictions due to fears over coronavirus testing, the head of an industry body has claimed.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman announced on Monday that limits on visitation would be lifted, including allowing up to six people from two different households to meet a resident outdoors, increasing the length of indoor visits from 30 minutes to four hours and allowing residents and their families to hold hands.
But Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said some of his members may not allow such visits over concerns about testing, including long waits for the results of weekly tests conducted on staff.
He is also pushing for the testing of residents’ families before they can visit, something First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would consider.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I think it’s really important that when we are entering what is a really emotional and difficult discussion around visiting, that we remember the people that we’re focused on and that is the residents.
“We’ve got to balance keeping them safe and introducing more visits into the care home.
“Some organisations may make the decision locally that they, because of their experience with poor testing, do not have the confidence that they are not increasing the risk to the resident.”
Mr Macaskill said decisions on visitation should be taken by homes themselves in consultation with patients and their families, to avoid staff and providers being “set against” those they are caring for.
He added: “We’ve got to get through this winter together, there are going to be very many challenges, but one thing we’re very clear of is we’ve got to get testing sorted and ideally we’ve got to increase it and we’ve got to get family members tested.
“Let’s invest in testing, that includes the sector but also wider society so we can get people connected up again.”
The Scottish Government has said it will take control of the weekly care home testing regime, which is currently carried out at the UK Government’s facilities in Scotland.
Mr Macaskill welcomed the decision, but added the change could take some time to be implemented.
He said: “It’s unfortunate that having worked quite successfully in the summer, just at the time that we’re seeing cases rise in the community, the testing system is still so fragile.”
He said it could take until the middle or end of November for all tests to be moved into Scottish Government control.
On Tuesday, Balhousie Care Group announced it will not relax visiting restrictions in its 25 homes until reassurances are given over testing and other infection control measures.
The firm’s chairman Tony Banks also described the move as “premature and ill-thought-out”.