Care HomesNews

“Extreme Caution” Urged Over Visits

Guarded welcome for 8th March decision

Care providers have given an extremely cautious welcome to a Government announcement that visits can begin again in care and nursing homes following Covid-10 lockdowns.

The Government announced at the weekend that care home residents could have one named visitor from 8 March and that they would be able to hold hands. The visitor would have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

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.

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.”

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum said: “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.

“NCF will continue to support our membership in moving as quickly as possible to implement these changes, and we call on the government to work with the sector to ensure that homes have all the support and resource needed to make this a reality for the hundreds and thousands of people living within care. Homes are communities, and relatives have always been an essential part of that community, having them back at the heart of care most definitely feels like an important junction on the roadmap.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Hundreds of thousands of older people in care homes and their loved ones will sleep a little easier tonight, now they know the journey towards fully reopening care homes to visiting is to begin soon. It makes sense for the first step to be to allow ‘essential care giving visitors’ back into care homes because these individuals are so crucial to the health and wellbeing of the residents they support.

In their absence we know that some older people have stopped eating and drinking, despite the best efforts of staff to take their place. Sometimes, only the person you love most in the world will do and it’s to the Government’s credit that they have recognised this.

However, there are relatively few of these very special people so most care home residents and their families will have to wait a little longer for permission to meet up in person again. Still, now they can realistically hope that their nightmarish, prolonged separation will be coming to an end soon – something that would have been inconceivable before the pandemic and that we must do everything possible to prevent from ever happening again.”