A parliamentary human rights committee has called on ministers to legislate against banning care home visits in England, which relatives say are having a devastating effect on the well-being of residents and instances causing deaths through loneliness and isolation.
Harriet Harman, the chair of the cross-party joint human rights committee of MPs and peers, has asked the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to require care homes to permit face-to-face visits, including visits without screens, unless an individual safety assessment judges it to be unsafe
New legislation would adopt a similar system in Canada of allowing entry to care homes by a specified care-giver, provided they test negative before each visit for COVID-19. The new law would require care homes to only block a visit ‘if they can prove it is unsafe’.
Harriet Harman, the chair of the cross-party joint human rights committee of MPs and peers, is urging health secretary, Matt Hancock, to tell care homes to allow face-to-face visits without screens.
‘We have continued to hear far too many examples of people being denied meaningful visits, where these might be safely facilitated,’ wrote Harriet Harman in a letter to Matt Hancock.
‘Failure to adopt an individualised approach to the safety of visits risks breaching the right of patients, residents and their families to family life.
‘We urge you to look at how other countries are tackling this, such as Canada, where in Ontario they have changed the law to allow access to care homes for a relative who is a designated caregiver, provided they test negative before each visit.
‘I would be very grateful if you could consider our proposal as a matter of urgency and respond to us by 17 February.’
In a letter to Hancock, Harman said: “We urge you to look at how other countries are tackling this, such as Canada, where in Ontario they have changed the law to allow access to care homes for a relative who is a designated caregiver, provided they test negative before each visit.”
Fiona Carragher, a director of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s great to see the milestone met to protect care home residents and we applaud all those who have worked tirelessly to meet it.
‘The most pressing question now is how and when can care homes restart safe, meaningful visits. Combined with PPE and testing, isn’t one jab enough? If not, what else needs to be in place? Another 12-week wait is unacceptable for people dying of loneliness. We need a swifter rollout of the second jab, as well as ensuring all staff receive it.’
Liz Kendall, Labour’s social care spokesman, called for an urgent plan to reunite families. She said: ‘After almost a year of this pandemic, many families are desperate to visit their loved ones in care homes. The news of the vaccine has offered hope to many – but the Government is still unable to tell us when families will be reunited.’ A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Care home visits can continue to take place with arrangements such as outdoor visiting, substantial screens, or visiting pods.
‘Close-contact indoor visits are not currently allowed. While the vaccines provide protection from serious disease, we do not yet know if they prevent someone from passing on the virus to others. This means it is still important to follow the visiting guidance.
‘We will be looking to ensure that a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available when it is safe to do so. We will publish updated guidance as this period of national lockdown ends.’