Visitors to care homes in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases will continue to be constantly supervised as part of the Government’s adult social care winter action plan.
Any facility listed by Public Health England’s (PHE) surveillance report as being an area of intervention should immediately move to stop visiting, except in “exceptional circumstances”, the plan says.
The number of people affected is expected to increase as ministers consider tough new coronavirus restrictions after Boris Johnson said the long-feared second wave of the pandemic had arrived in the UK.
The plan was published on Friday evening along with a letter from care minister Helen Whately in which she expressed hope the virus would be eradicated from care homes by September 2021.
In the letter addressed to the heads of local authorities, care home providers and public health and adult social care directors, Ms Whately said: “This time next year, it would be wonderful to achieve our objective of Covid-free care homes, resilient communities and a health and care workforce still able to give their very best.”
The plan sets out the national support available to the sector to help fight the spread of coronavirus over winter.
Ms Whately said with the prevalence of coronavirus rising in the general population and in social care, “now is the time to act”.
She added: “This year, we have all shared or recognised the pain of losing family members, friends and colleagues to coronavirus and its complications.
“I am determined to do all that I can to protect everyone receiving and providing care this winter.
“Nationally, locally and at the front line, we must intensify our efforts to support, protect and equip everyone in the system.
“With the prevalence of coronavirus rising in the population and in social care, now is the time to act.”
Care homes will receive free personal protective equipment (PPE) and providers must stop movement of staff between homes “unless absolutely necessary”.
The plan says limitations on staff movement between care homes would be “enforced through regulations focused on care home providers”.
The Infection Control Fund, set up in May, has been extended until March and will offer the sector an extra £546 million to help providers through the winter months.
A new dashboard will monitor care home infections, while a chief nurse for adult social care will be appointed to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The plan also says the Government is drawing up a “designation” scheme with the Care Quality Commission for premises that are safe for people leaving hospital who have tested positive for Covid-19 or are awaiting a test result.
Patients will continue to be tested prior to discharge and no provider should be forced to accept an existing or new patient if they cannot deal with their coronavirus safely, it added.
The plan says £1.8 billion has been provided via the NHS to support the “safe and timely” discharge of patients from hospital, including through testing them for coronavirus.
The charity Mencap and the National Care Forum (NCF) welcomed the plan, but both raised concerns about the proposals to restrict visits to care homes.
Vic Rayner, executive director at NCF, said the plan “ticks all the right boxes” but there was a lot of detail still to come.
She added: “There is cold comfort for the social care workforce.
“Much feted over recent months, the Government has not taken the opportunity within this plan to celebrate and reward their efforts.
“The workforce is our most valuable asset – and the plan ignores or minimises that fact at all of our peril.
“Finally, it is of huge concern that the plan seeks to further restrict visits to care homes, and NCF calls on Government to think again about blanket bans in areas of intervention.”