Balhousie Care Group trials rapid response COVID tests


4th December 2020

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 

Balhousie Care Group

Balhousie Care homes provide residents with a happy, friendly, safe and caring environment coupled with an exceedingly high level of accommodation.

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