A care home has built a custom Covid-secure visitor room, believed to be the first in the UK, separating visitors and residents by perspex glass.
Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, is piloting the scheme which aims to facilitate visitor access to elderly and vulnerable residents.
It comes as care homes across the UK struggle to accommodate visits from family and friends, while keeping residents amid a rising number of coronavirus infections.
A spokesman for Barchester Healthcare confirmed that the pilot scheme is in the early stages at the Chacombe Park Care Home in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The Telegraph has seen a photograph of the room.
The scheme involves a large “air-tight” perspex screen built into a wall which would divide the resident and the visitor. The room has been designed to look like a living room, with teapot motifs on the wall, soft furnishings and lampshades.
The visitor and resident are separated by the wall-sized perspex panel, and can communicate via an intercom system.
While many have welcomed innovative ways that care homes are facilitating visits, the Telegraph understands that the pilot at Chacombe Park Care Home has been criticised by some relatives as a “prison-style” visiting system.
It is also understood that some families are considering removing residents from the care home as a result.
In response to claims that the visitor room at Chacombe Park Care Home is “prison-like”, a Barchester Healthcare spokesperson described it as an “indoor room that is accessible both internally and externally as a safe ‘pod’ for families to visit during the winter”.
“The idea is to create an internal space that is hygienic, and sealed to control airflow and prevent transference of the virus.
“The claim that this is like a prison has left us perplexed. The room is in essence a living room type area with a Perspex glass divider fitted for safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will have soft furnishings, lampshades and cushions. There are decals of teapots on the wall.
“Evidence has shown us that only external distanced and internal sealed visiting is currently safe and that the inclement weather we shall soon be experiencing precludes external visits for many people.
“With the wellbeing of our residents and staff at the forefront of everything we do we have taken the route of this expensive alternative, as all other solutions that have been suggested involve an elevated level of risk that is not consistent with that core objective and which we are not prepared to take.
“Feedback from families to date tells us that the majority of people would accept unusual arrangements if it meant being able to see their loved ones while also keeping them safe.
“Finally, it is worth noting that this is a temporary measure we are trialling until the wider pandemic is brought under control and do of course hope to allow visits again as normal once it is safe to do so.” The spokesperson added that this is a trial scheme aiming to safeguard residents.
“The trial of a new visiting room will not be implemented in every home and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise, not least because the design and architecture of homes differ. In the meantime, we urge families to continue with current visiting plans, in line with Public Health.”
Last week, the Telegraph revealed another pilot scheme taking place across UK care homes, which could soon see visitors allowed to hug their relatives after taking a Covid-19 test that provides results in 85 minutes.
The scheme, backed by the National Institute of Health Research and called Condor, will see testing machines placed in a sample of care homes to test people for coronavirus through a saliva sample.
Care home managers said that if the pilot is successful, it has the potential to "make all the difference" by enabling relatives and staff to have greater access to residents.