Balhousie Care Group trials rapid response COVID tests as Scotland gets a step closer to in-home care visits

MEDIA RELEASE Friday December 4, 2020

IMAGES FREE TO USE Photo credit: TAG/PPA Picture Agency

The award-winning Scottish care home provider Balhousie Care Group has been trialling rapid response COVID tests in two of its homes as the country moves a step closer to in-home care visits.

The group, which operates 26 facilities across Scotland, is halfway through a four-week trial of rapid response anti-gen tests among 100 care staff across two of its largest homes, Balhousie St. Ronans in Dundee and Balhousie Wheatlands in Bonnybridge. The nasal swab tests, using lateral flow devices (LFDs), take place on-site and results are received within 30 minutes.

The care provider’s move – hot on the heels of the first COVID vaccine being approved, and on the eve of a mass rapid response visitor testing programme by Scottish Government – comes after months of problems with mass staff testing, which has been taking place among care home staff since June. Balhousie Care Group has been public in its frustration over the turnaround time of the weekly PCR swab tests currently being used. The group is still seeing delays in results of 4 to 7 days, with hundreds of staff test results never returned.

Jill Kerr, Group Chief Executive Officer of Balhousie Care Group, said: “Since schools and universities returned at the end of August, we have experienced significant issues with delays and non-return of tests. We have been in regular contact with the Scottish Government to share our frustrations and propose solutions to these issues, including rapid response testing using LFDs.”

Balhousie’s own solution is a software system run by Test Assurance Group (TAG) which has developed a platform allowing on-site testing throughput to within 30 minutes from the point of test. Seven months in development, the TAG platform – which runs via a GDPR compliant app – is designed to be able to cope with large-scale anti-gen testing simply and effectively.

Balhousie Care Group stressed that each of the trials was being run in parallel with the regular staff mass testing that is taking place in its homes. Jill added: “We are very much at trial stage and, realising that the current PCR tests are the gold standard in terms of accuracy, we aim to continue to compare and contrast results between PCR and rapid response tests. What we would like now is for Scottish Government to closely consider our results, and for rapid response LFDs to be the primary mode of testing for care home staff.”

The news comes on the eve of a rollout by the Scottish Government of LFDs to all care homes for visitor testing, starting on December 7th.  Jill Kerr said: “We’re delighted about the news of the Scottish Government’s rapid response testing for visitors, which means in-home care visits can take place with this extra measure of assurance. However, when it comes to staff testing there are still ongoing issues which we felt needed addressed quickly. As a large private care provider in Scotland, with 1500 staff and 1000 residents, we feel time is of the essence.

“We started to plan rapid response testing as soon as the testing technology was available, using LFDs. These will mean we can quickly identify staff members who may be asymptomatic and remove them from the care home, where they could be spreading COVID-19 to residents and colleagues. But testing is just part of the process of assuring a COVID-safe environment to our residents and staff. That includes temperature checks and thorough infection prevention and control procedures.”

Balhousie Care Group has continued to face delays of 7 days and more for test results with the regular PCR tests, way more than the recommended 48 hours.

Jill Kerr said: “We were told that a move to using NHS labs to process results would improve things, but every week up to a third of our staff are still waiting on results five days after their weekly test is done. This puts our residents and our staff at an unacceptable risk of exposure to staff members who may be COVID positive but not showing symptoms.”

Cliff Kirby of Test Assurance Group said: “Test Assurance Group (TAG) are thrilled to be supporting this initiative led by Balhousie Care Group.  As a business we have spent over seven months learning, understanding, and developing our software platform to support large scale Covid-19 testing.

“We have focused heavily on ensuring we have robust solutions around GDPR and data ownership while at the same time ensuring we are building a system that will allow for mass testing to evolve in a manner that is understood and controllable.

“Working with Balhousie Care Group is a great opportunity to show that our platform really meets the needs of the market and helps Balhousie as they look to lead the charge in welcoming back relatives and visitors to their care homes.

“As a business we are focused on ensuring that we deliver a product solution that adds values to all parties and playing our part in ensuring that loved ones can see their relatives once more”.

Balhousie Care Group was one of the first care home operators in the country to take the difficult decision to close its homes to non-essential visits, on March 11th. Since then it has publicly called for widespread testing of care home staff that is both quick and accurate, as well as more consistent guidance from the Scottish Government and other public bodies.

Balhousie Care Group’s investments since the COVID pandemic began have run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. They include thermal imaging cameras in all homes, an online visitor booking system, fogging machines, group-wide hygiene training, and a bespoke staff phone app to enable better communication.

For more information about Balhousie Care Group visit www.balhousiecare.co.uk

ENDS

For Balhousie Care Group media enquiries contact Gillian Drummond on 07365 284994, 01738 254254 or email gillian.drummond@balhousiecare.co.uk

For TAG media enquiries contact Julie Paul on +44(0)330 124 4358 or email Julie@pinchofsalts.com

 About Balhousie Care Group

Balhousie Care Group was formed 27 years ago to fill a gap in quality residential care in North East Scotland. Today, with 26 homes in the area, it is one of the leading providers of care for the elderly in Scotland, providing care to over 900 residents.

Balhousie Care prides itself on its person-centred approach to care. Putting people right at the forefront of everything they do; it’s inclusive of everyone. They capture this philosophy through the roll out of ‘Together We’re Great’, an initiative which recognises the skills, talents, attributes and support areas for each and every person involved in the organisation. Together We’re Great aims to value individuality and promote excellence across the organisation.

A Participation Charter – a first-of-its-kind in the care home sector – commits to residents getting a bigger say than ever in the care they receive, from writing care home policies to recruiting staff.

Balhousie Care Group is the recipient of numerous awards. These include three Scottish Care Awards, 2019 Growth Business and 2018 Service Business of the Year at The Courier Business Awards, 2019 Growth Business of the Year Perthshire Chamber of Commerce STAR Award, and SME Scotland Business Man of the Year 2019 for Chairman Tony Banks.

 

About Test Assurance Group

Test Assurance Group (TAG) have developed  an end to end testing system and solution that will provide best measures against the spread of Covid-19 within any establishment.

The Test Assurance Group process is centred around  our fully GDPR compliant mobile application that allows simple yet effective controls and consents to be used to ensure an individual’s data is being treated in a fully compliant manner.

Our App based system is end user centric to ensure the individual has complete control and understanding of the tests and processes.

We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Balhousie Care Group.

TAG is also in discussion with providers of COVID vaccines.

For more information please visit www.testassurancegroup.com

 For all TAG sales enquires please contact enquires@testassurancegroup.com

+44(0) 330 124 4371