Care home residents will be able to leave their home for “low risk” visits without having to self-isolate for 14 days on their return the government has confirmed. This can include visiting their family’s garden or taking a walk with a named visitor or care worker.
From Tuesday May 4, residents leaving their home for a walk or to visit a loved one’s garden will no longer have to isolate for two weeks on their return, however, those leaving for medical appointments and for overnight visits will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) removed the requirement for outdoor, “low risk” visits after being threatened with legal action by the charity John’s Campaign.
Campaigners said the rule encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents, with family members calling it “barbaric”.
Residents will also be able to vote in person in the upcoming local elections without having to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We know how challenging this time has been for care home residents, so I am pleased that they can now leave their homes to reunite with their loved ones outdoors.
“With the data continuing to head in the right direction and as restrictions ease, it is my priority to keep increasing visits for residents in the coming weeks in a safe and controlled way.”
The government said that keeping visits outdoors will ensure any risk is minimised as much as possible.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately added: “I know residents and their families have found the restrictions on trips out of care homes incredibly difficult. This is one more step towards getting back to normal, while protecting care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.
“As part of this interim update before the next stage of the roadmap, care home residents will also be able to leave to spend time outdoors. I know this has been long-awaited for those who haven’t had a chance to enjoy trips out. I look forward to encouraging more visiting and trips out in future as we turn the tide on this cruel virus.”
Care provider body The Independent Care Group (ICG) said the decision was a victory for common sense, as the threat from Covid-19 in the community recedes.
ICG Chair Mike Padgham said: “This is welcome news and something we have been calling for over the past few weeks.
“It seems sensible that a resident who has had both vaccinations can enjoy a safe, socially-distanced trip out to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
“We know that the lack of social contact and visits has been detrimental to the health of residents and as others within the community start to enjoy freedom from the restraints of lockdown it is only right and fair that those in care and nursing homes do so too.
“Our only gripe is that the Government has announced that this can start immediately after the Bank Holiday, which doesn’t give care providers much time to prepare! This will be quite labour intensive for care and nursing homes and I think residents and their families will have to show patience and understanding whilst these visits are organised.
“We will have to tread carefully and trust that people taking residents out do obey the rules about not going indoors, for example.
“Overall, it is a very good move and we hope it can be the start of further easing of restrictions on care and nursing homes, once it is safe.”
Vic Rayner, CEO of the National Care said: “The government has today issued a letter outlining that from the 4th May residents will have opportunities to leave their care home to spend time outdoors without then having to isolate for 14 days upon their return. This feels like a very important step forward in that it recognises how important it is for people living within care homes to once again take some tentative first steps back into the community.
“The guidance itself has not yet been issued, so as ever the devil will be in the detail.
“NCF raised the issue of care home residents effectively being barred from the voting booth under the existing guidance earlier this month. We are therefore pleased that it appears from this letter that the government has recognised the need to protect the inalienable rights of all our citizens to vote in person.
“This letter does give a welcome sense of light at the end of the tunnel, however, it is vitally important that the government lays out a clear roadmap for those receiving social care in care homes that makes it crystal clear how long this tunnel is, and what needs to happen in order for care home residents to be able to fully engage with family and friends – both within their home and in their communities.”