Government guidance on care home visits must be supported in law to protect the rights of residents and their families, according to a report.
Current guidance says every care home resident in England can nominate up to two named visitors for regular visits, and residents with the highest care needs can also nominate an essential care giver.
It says staff should not make blanket decisions for groups of people and that the individual resident’s views, needs and wellbeing should be considered when making visiting decisions. However, without statutory force, there is no legal recourse for residents to require their providers to implement the guidance.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said it is “completely unacceptable” for some care home providers to argue it is not safe to follow Government guidance.
The committee has called on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to implement vigorous processes on data collection and monitoring of care home visits by the end of May after it found many providers are not following government guidance.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, appointed from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, said it was “astonished” that the CQC was unable to offer a clear picture of adherence to care home visitor guidance.
When giving evidence to the committee, the CQC said it did not collect quantitative data on how many visits have occurred across care homes.
“It is clear that public authorities do not have a clear enough view of the care home sector’s adherence to the guidance on visiting,” said the joint committee.
“It was astonishing to hear the CQC claim that they were not aware of any care home in England that was not following the guidance, despite clear evidence to the contrary from residents and their families. The CQC needs to get a grip on what is going on in the care home sector,” it added.
The joint committee has prepared a draft statutory instrument to lay before parliament to secure legal protection for care home residents deprived of family visits.
In its Care homes: Visiting restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the committee called on the government to make the existing requirements for individualised assessment for visits mandatory by laying its draft regulation as soon as possible.
Harriet Harman Labour MP and committee chairwoman, said the pandemic has been heartbreaking for “far too many” families whose right to family life has been breached.
“The CQC assurances that visits are being allowed properly now in all homes is wholly unconvincing. Because care homes see guidance about allowing visits as advisory rather than binding, the government must now bring forward regulations to give their guidance on visits legal force,” she added.
She said: “The Government has listened to recommendations from this Committee and others that restrictions on visiting rights must be only be implemented on the basis of an individualised risk assessment which takes into account the risks to the resident’s physical and mental wellbeing of not having visits.
“By not underpinning this guidance in law, care homes have not felt bound by it and important rights have therefore not been respected.
Social Care Minister Helen Whately said the care homes themselves should decide on visiting policies.
“We recognise that every care home has a unique layout, physical environment and facilities, and residents have their own individual health and wellbeing needs, which is why care homes themselves are best placed to decide how to enable visiting safely,” she said.