The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has released new guidance on care home visiting that allows each resident to have one regular indoor visitor. This guidance applies from 8th March 2021 and replaces previous guidance on care home visiting.
The guidance applies to care homes for working-age and for older adults, recognizing that visiting is an essential part of care home life and is crucially important for maintaining the health and wellbeing and quality of life for residents.
The guidance sets out the government’s advice to support safe visiting:
- every care home resident will be able to nominate a single named visitor who will be able to enter the care home for regular visits. These visitors should be tested using rapid lateral flow tests before every visit, must wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow all other infection control measures (which the care home will guide them on) during visits. Visitors and residents are advised to keep physical contact to a minimum. Visitors and residents may wish to hold hands, but should bear in mind that any contact increases the risk of transmission. There should not be close physical contact such as hugging
- residents with the highest care needs will also be able to nominate an essential care giver
- care homes can continue to offer visits to other friends or family members with arrangements such as outdoor visiting, substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows
Care home visiting should, the guidance advises, be supported wherever it is possible to do so safely – supported by this guidance and within an environment set up to manage risks. Visitors and family members also have an important role to play – helping to keep their loved ones safe by carefully following the policies described in this guidance, and the practical arrangements that care homes put in place. Local system leaders such as the directors of public health (DPH) and directors of adult social services (DASS) have a key role in this partnership to support visiting.
It is not a condition of visiting that the visitor or the resident should have been vaccinated. However, it is strongly recommended that all visitors and residents take up the opportunity to be vaccinated when they are invited to do so through the national programme.
When the data shows it is safe, the government wants to go further and allow more visitors. At step 2 of the roadmap (no earlier than 12 April) the government will look carefully at the effectiveness of the vaccine for people living in care homes (and for the clinically extremely vulnerable generally), as well as levels of infection in the local community, especially of any new variants. The government will take a decision at that point on extending the number of visitors to 2 per resident, which was the approach in December prior to the national ‘stay at home’ restrictions coming into force, and set out a plan for the next phase of visits for people in residential care.
Responding to the updated guidance on visiting arrangements in care homes, Vic Rayner, Chief Executive at the National Care Forum, the leading member association for not for profit care providers said:
“The Prime Minister has made a commitment that this, and other cautious moves out of national lockdown, are ‘irreversible’ and he must ensure that all parties at local and national level work together to fulfil that promise. The important introduction of the essential caregiver role will provide the vital continuity that our most vulnerable residents need. It will enable those residents who desperately need to be reconnected with loved ones to be reunited and have them once again a consistent part of their life in the care home.
“Care home providers will continue to need support to implement this guidance. It is reliant on government sustaining free PPE, ongoing access to testing and to recognising the additional costs to care homes in managing the complexities of safe visiting within a pandemic. It is of huge concern that at the same time that the government is relaunching visiting, it has missed the opportunity within the budget to provide assurance that the emergency funding for testing and visiting will be extended beyond the end of March 2021. If the notion of an irreversible step forward in enabling visiting is to be believed, then the government must also put forward an irreversible commitment to resource it.”