Legal action against the government has commenced over guidance that bans care home residents in England aged 65 and over from taking trips outside of the care the home.
A campaign group John’s Campaign, which campaigns for better access on behalf of residents and their loved ones, says the ban is unlawful, and are also challenging the requirement for residents to self-isolate for 14 days after such visits, and argues that by imposing a blanket ban regardless of the health of the individual, the Government is acting unlawfully.
It said the Equality Act 2010 prohibits indirect discrimination, but the guidance on care home visits “permits (indeed, requires) just such a discriminatory approach to be taken”.
In a letter to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the campaign’s solicitors Leigh Day said the guidance must balance the Covid-19 risk against the harm caused by keeping people away from their families.
The letter continued: “That risk being particularly stark where many individuals in care homes have suffered from prolonged separation throughout this year.”
Adding that those aged 64 and under may be permitted to leave the home even if they have a condition that makes them extremely vulnerable, but those above that age who are otherwise healthy are not.
Leigh Day said existing laws requires care homes to make specific, risk-assessed decisions for the individuals in their care, and imposing blanket restrictions on those aged 64 and over is “fundamentally at odds with that requirement”.
John’s Campaign co-founder Nicci Gerrard said: “Care homes are not prisons, and people living in them should have the same rights as everyone else in society.”
Speaking to the BBC she said: “The 440,000 people living in care homes include some who moved in through their own volition, with full mental capacity, never guessing that this simple freedom, enjoyed by everyone else in the population, apart from prisoners, could so easily be denied them.”
“’Those who cannot make their own choices have relatives and friends who would normally be glad to take responsibility but have been excluded choices.’
She added: “It is extraordinary, unkind and entirely unacceptable that Government guidance should seek to prevent anyone over the age of 64 leaving their care home for visits out.
The government said its guidance provides a “range of opportunities” for visitors to spend time with loved ones.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: ‘We know just how crucial visits are in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents.
‘Our current guidance provides a range of opportunities for visitors to meet and spend time with their loved ones in a care home under carefully designed conditions to keep everyone safe.
‘Residents over 65 can make visits outside of care homes in exceptional circumstances and all decisions in relation to visiting should be made on the basis of a risk assessment centred around the individual. This is made clear in our guidance.
‘As we move along the roadmap, we are looking to open up more opportunities for visiting both into and outside of care homes, wherever this can be done safely and is supported by data.’