Face-to-face visits in care homes could resume within weeks as England’s lockdown is eased, a minister has suggested. Her remarks came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to reveal the government’s roadmap next week (February 22), setting out how restrictions will be gradually lifted for different sectors of the economy over the coming months.
During the national lockdown care homes have been instructed to enable socially distanced visits outside, including window visits and the use of “visiting pods”, which has led to concerns over isolation and high-profile incidents from families desperate to see loved ones.
Speaking on Sky News Care minister Helen Whately said she wants to see a return to more “normal” visits as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed: “I really, really want to open up visiting in care homes more. To be clear, we have made sure that visiting can continue even during this national lockdown.
“But I recognize it’s not the normal kind of visiting, it’s having to use screens or visiting pods or through windows if care homes don’t have those facilities.”
The Care Minister said that families would not have to wait for their relatives to receive their second vaccine dose before seeing them.
She added: “What I want to do as we come out of the national lockdown is also increase the amount of visiting.
“I don’t see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose, I want us to open up sooner than that.”
The Care Minister also emphasized the need for “caution”: “Most residents in care homes have only had their first dose and some of them only very recently, so it will be step by step.
“I’m determined so that we can see people go back to be able to hold hands again and to see somebody who you haven’t been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year. I really want to make that happen again.”
Commenting on the news, Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, a former NHS surgeon and founder and chairman of Advinia Care Homes, said: “The isolation of the pandemic has been hugely detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of vulnerable older people across the country. Social disconnection has been shown to significantly increase a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, rivalling smoking and obesity.”
“It is also closely connected to an increased risk of dementia as well as depression and anxiety. Whilst ongoing measures have been critical to limit the spread of disease, now that nearly all care home residents have had their vaccine and we are seeing a significant drop in the number of infections, we must do all we can to mitigate the impact of loneliness on the health of the elderly. We need to ensure all social care staff are vaccinated as soon as possible, that tests are available for visitors, and that visitor pods are set up, so that we can restart safe, meaningful visits and grant older people access to their loved ones.”
The Care Minister’s comments follow a warning from the CQC that it may inspect any care home that imposes “unacceptable” blanket bans on visiting where there is no active coronavirus outbreak.