Care home residents will be able to be visited indoors by a single named individual from the 8 March as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions.
The scheme will allow a single visitor to hold hands indoors with their relative or contact in a care home, and make repeat visits under carefully designed conditions to keep residents, staff and visitors safe.
Every resident will have the opportunity to name one individual, who will be required to have a test beforehand, wear PPE during the visit and avoid close contact.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said:
“I know how important visiting a loved one is and I’m pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.
“This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step by step way in the future.”
Restrictions on visits have been in place during national lockdown to protect vulnerable residents. While coronavirus cases remain high, the number of infections is falling – and the UK’s vaccination programme has seen every care home resident offered a jab, with more almost 17 million vaccinations carried out in total.
Outdoor, pod and screen visits will be able to continue in line with the published guidance which has been in place during lockdown, meaning there will be chances for residents to see more than just the one person they nominate.
The clinically led approach has been designed in partnership with the Deputy Chief Medical Officers and Public Health England and is the next step towards regular indoor visits resuming.
Minister for Care Helen Whately said:
“One of the hardest things during this pandemic has been seeing families desperate to be reunited with their loved ones kept apart and I absolutely want to bring them back together.
“Throughout this pandemic we have sought clinical guidance on how visits can be conducted safely.
“We had to restrict the majority of visiting when the new variant was discovered but we have done all we can to enable visits to continue in some form. That includes providing funding towards costs of screens and PPE.
“As we begin to open up we will move step by step to increase visits while remembering we are still in the grip of a global pandemic.”
All visitors will receive a lateral flow test and be required to follow all infection prevention and control measures.
These measures, based on the science, represent a balance between the risk of infections and the importance of visiting for the physical and mental wellbeing of residents and their families.
Professor Deborah Sturdy, chief nurse for adult social care, said:
“I know how much people want to visit, hug and kiss their loved ones but doing so can put lives at risk so we would ask people to continue to follow the rules.
“This is a first step towards resuming indoor visits and we all hope to be able to take further steps in the future.
“I am pleased as a result of so many people following the rules we are in a position to increase visits and hope this is just the start.”
Close contact care will be restricted to visitors who provide assistance – such as help dressing, eating or washing – which is essential to the immediate health and wellbeing of a resident. Existing guidance already enables these visits under exceptional circumstances.
We are providing extra support for these carers by providing them with the same regular PCR testing regime and PPE arrangements as care home workers to further reduce the risk of infection to themselves and those for whom they provide vital care.
All care home providers not experiencing an outbreak will be asked to follow the updated guidance and continue to work together with families and local professionals to ensure visits are possible while continuing to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19.
The government will continue to provide free tests and PPE to support the scheme and has already distributed £1.1billion from the infection control fund, an additional £149million to support rapid testing and visits and £120million to increase staffing.
Meanwhile, anxious care providers have given an extremely cautious welcome to the Government announcement.
Provider organisation The Independent Care Group (ICG) gave an “extremely cautious” welcome to the Government’s announcement.
It called for greater clarification on details of the announcement and urged providers to take care.
ICG Chair Mike Padgham said: “Care providers are very keen to enable residents to enjoy visits from their relatives once again as they have been kept apart for too long.
“But we must sound a note of caution because Covid-19 hasn’t gone away and we are caring for the most vulnerable and most susceptible to it, as the figures show.
“We need some clarification – for example, the announcement says holding hands will be allowed but warns against “close contact”. How is that going to be possible? There is going to have to be some very close but compassionate supervision of these visits.
“In truth, we might have preferred a more phased return to visiting with maybe a period of no contact visits followed by some careful contact.”
“We would also be slightly concerned that this is being introduced at the same time that schools return, which we are being warned could lead to an increase in infections again. Is it right to do these two things together?
“Plus, many residents will not have had their second vaccine, many visitors will not have had any vaccines at all and there are concerns about the accuracy of lateral flow tests.
“All in all, we know that people desperately want to reunite residents with their families, but we have to be extremely cautious.
“These are very vulnerable people and Covid-19 has claimed the lives of more than 28,000 of them in the past year.
“I would still urge care providers to work with their local health professionals and local councils to ensure they proceed with care.”
The ICG said it was also concerned about the extra costs the new visits would create and called on the Government to provide more support.
“The new visiting regime is going to entail a lot of hard work and extra staffing. With the current infection control fund coming to an end next month, we must have more support to help make this visiting work,” Mr Padgham added.
NCF response to cautious easing of lockdown for care home visiting
“The National Care Forum welcomes the government commitment to put care home visiting front and centre of the road map for recovery. The NCF, working in partnership with all those passionate about care, have been raising the urgent need to reconnect people with their loved ones for many, many months now, and whilst the overall approach to visiting has incrementally moved forward, it is hugely important that this next step recognises the role of essential caregivers and ensures that people living within care homes have regular, sustained and meaningful contact with one of the most important people in their lives.”
The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) Welcomes Government’s First Step to End Isolation in Care
The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) welcomes the Government’s commitment to reopen care homes to visitors from 8 March, as part of the roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions. This is urgently needed and will begin the process to end isolation in care.
R&RA has been campaigning to end isolation in care since September and the organisation wrote a letter to the Prime Minister earlier this week urging that residents be reunited with their essential caregivers.
However, the limited detail published by the Government so far seems to fall far short of what is needed to end the heartache, distress and anxiety of isolation for all residents. It suggests that ‘close contact’ visits would only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, as the current guidance already sets out, which would leave many of the most vulnerable residents without the kind of support they need to protect their wellbeing.
Helen Wildbore, Director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said:
“R&RA welcomes the Government’s commitment to end isolation in care and is pleased they have listened to the voices of residents and their families. Our helpline hears daily from people for whom the past year of severe visitor restrictions has had a devastating impact and we will continue to campaign until ending isolation becomes a reality for all residents.
For many of our helpline callers, being able to visit and hold hands will be a welcome first step. However, asking residents to choose a single constant visitor for face-to-face visits will lead to heart-breaking decisions between family members and friends.
The proposals fall far too short of what is needed to end the distress of isolation for the most vulnerable residents. For people with dementia and other conditions, touch is crucial. If the roadmap only allows ‘close contact’ visits in exceptional circumstances as suggested – such as help to encourage eating and drinking – this fundamentally misunderstands the role relatives and friends play as essential caregivers in protecting resident’s wellbeing.
Finally, we are concerned little will change on the ground to reunite families until these proposals are deemed mandatory and set out in law. Only then can the Government ensure the promise of meaningful visiting becomes a reality for all.”
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