After a month without any guidance on visiting in care homes in England, families and providers desperately needed clarity and leadership from Government. Unfortunately, the long-overdue guidance provides neither, says the Relatives and Residents Association.
Guidance was urgently needed to set out the action homes should take to protect residents whose human rights are at risk and how to safely reinstate vital family support, via individual risk and needs assessments. What has been produced instead encourages blanket approaches, provides scant practical advice on future management of the virus and is difficult to follow. For providers who are still not permitting visits, there is little help here to encourage them out of lockdown. For providers who are already allowing visits, this guidance could take them backwards, they said.
Buried in the detail, there is welcome news, in terms of opening up care homes to in-person visits, weighing up the resident’s well-being and needs against risk of infection. There is thoughtful consideration around face coverings for people who may find those distressing. The guidance addresses some of the barriers that have prevented people in the most vulnerable situations from having visits, including allowing visits in resident’s rooms and allowing personal contact, the association added.
They did however express concern. Restricting visits to a ‘single constant visitor’ will lead to some painful decisions, will be problematic for many family members and friends, and will likely place undue burden on providers to implement. Equally, encouraging blanket approaches for ‘cohorts/categories of residents’ will lead to unfair policies which fail to take account of individual needs, and could create discontent amongst families and a further burden on providers.
This is very far from the clear strategy the Association says it has been calling for the Government to produce on safely opening up care homes. There is little practical advice offered, no commitment to providing the support needed to implement it (such as PPE and regular testing for visitors), and no long term plan for managing the virus and any future outbreaks. It feels as though this guidance, once again, has been produced without the benefit of input from those receiving care, their families or providers.
Helen Wildbore, director of R&RA, said:
“After such a long delay in Government guidance on safely opening up care homes, many families will be disappointed with the lack of clarity and practical support it offers. Our helpline callers are concerned that the new advice takes us backwards, reversing some measures care homes have put in place to facilitate visits. It is a far cry from the strategy R&RA have been calling on the Government to produce. Older people needing care have felt like an afterthought throughout this crisis. Sadly, this is yet another example of Government action which is too little, too late to protect the rights of people needing care.”