Care home residents ‘forgoing healthcare appointments over self-isolation rule’

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

Care home residents are forgoing healthcare appointments because of a requirement to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving the home for certain visits, campaigners have warned.

John’s Campaign is calling for the requirement, set out in Government guidance, to be urgently scrapped for all visits out, including external medical appointments and overnight stays.

This week, the Government removed the rule for care home residents leaving the home for “low risk” outdoor visits, such as walks or sitting in a garden.

But the supplementary guidance, issued over the weekend, did not cover visits for medical appointments or overnight stays with family members.

This is what I'm saying about the Visits Out revisions. This is a start but it's not nearly enough. One of the urgent…

Posted by John's Campaign on Tuesday, May 4, 2021

It followed a threat of legal action from John’s Campaign, which said it encouraged care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents.

The charity is writing to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, calling on him to remove the requirement for all visits out when the guidance is next updated.

If not, the group, represented by Leigh Day solicitors, says it will start legal proceedings.

It is expecting an announcement from the Government on May 10, ahead of the next stage of the Government’s road map on May 17.

Co-founder Julia Jones said the 14-day isolation period should be “consigned to history’s bin of shame”.

She said: “No-one is helped to feel better, stronger or happier by being isolated for 14 days and it’s patently ludicrous – as well as cruel – to make this the penalty for a visit to hospital outpatient department, an optician or a dentist.

“If these places are not safe for people who live in care homes (who have the highest rate of vaccination and antibody protection), they are not safe for anyone.”

Tessa Gregory, who is representing John’s Campaign, added: “Whilst our clients welcome the changes that were belatedly announced over the weekend, they expect the Government on 10 May to issue new lawful guidance that does not contain blanket self-isolation requirements and ensures that care providers individually risk assess residents for visits out.

“It cannot be right that the Government are telling care homes that any resident, who attends a hospital appointment or stays overnight at their family’s house as part of their care plan, must be required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return.”

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said the group’s helpline has heard of older people not attending a range of appointments, such as dental, chiropody, sight, hearing.

She said this is “incredibly concerning” and the 14 day isolation requirement can turn into “perpetual isolation” for those with chronic conditions that are managed through regular appointments.

She is calling for the Government to “urgently address this to ensure older people’s access to healthcare and to protect their wellbeing”.

She said: “Whilst we welcome the changes today which lift the 14 day quarantine for visits outside, it’s astonishing and incredibly concerning that it doesn’t also apply to medical appointments.

“Our helpline hears how the prospect of two weeks quarantine has prevented many older people from getting access to healthcare, including for very serious conditions like cancer.

“Older people should not have to choose between protecting their physical health and preserving their mental health by avoiding isolation.

“The Government must drop the quarantine for medical appointments as a matter of urgency.”

Minister for care Helen Whately said: “I know how difficult the last year has been for people in care homes who are among those most at risk from Covid-19.

“Residents can now leave their care home to spend time outdoors, for instance to visit a park or garden, without having to self-isolate upon their return.

“This is another significant step towards normal life and is being taken in a way that will help protect care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.

“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.”