Care homes given green light on restarting visits after guidance delay

Care homes have been given the long-awaited green light to allow loved ones to safely visit residents, after providers expressed “immense frustration” at a delay in Government guidance.

Visits will resume in specific care homes in England once local directors of public health and local authorities decide it is safe to do so, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Now the rate of community transmission of coronavirus has fallen, the Government has issued the guidance to help care homes resume visits while keeping residents and staff protected.

But Professor Martin Green, chief executive of the membership body Care England, said this should have been published last month.

Providers previously expressed “immense frustration” over the delay, which prompted some care associations to develop their own protocols for care homes wishing to resume visits earlier.

The new guidance says visits should be limited to a “single constant visitor” per resident where possible to limit the risk of infection spread and keep footfall in and out of the home down.

It is understood care homes will have discretion to work with families so individuals can visit their loved ones separately, for example if an elderly person has more than one child.

But care homes, with local directors of public health, will have the final say on this based on the local circumstances.

Risk assessments will be undertaken prior to visits starting, and visits should involve face coverings and social distancing measures.

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More personal protective equipment will be required if a visitor is making close personal contact with a resident, but this should be kept to a minimum.

Providers should consider whether visits could take place in a communal garden or outdoor area, accessible without going through a shared building.

If there is an outbreak in the home or evidence of increased transmission in the community which leads to a local lockdown, care homes should rapidly impose visiting restrictions.

It is understood that in the absence of Government guidance until now, some care homes in England have, since June, allowed socially distanced visits in outdoor areas if the facility has been free from Covid-19 for a certain period.

Care England produced its own document for members on visiting learning disability providers on June 10 and supported a visitors protocol for residential care providers produced by the Care Provider Alliance on June 19.

The membership organisation, the country’s largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, said it was “disappointed” the Government guidance had come so late.

Prof Green said: “This guidance should have been with care providers last month.

“We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector.”

He added the guidance does not consider issues around visitors and residents leaving the premises, with many relatives likely to want to take their loved ones out.

This new guidance is welcome – it's good to see the Government acknowledge the importance of family carers, and we’re pleased they included and listened to people with dementia. 1/3https://t.co/pHVFz6OGSq

— Alzheimer's Society (@alzheimerssoc) July 22, 2020

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the guidance was “well-considered” but added: “These carer visits are hugely important to the health of people with dementia, passing responsibility to overstretched local public health directors and others to make decisions about if and how to allow visits is likely to result in very little change unless this point is very clearly made and enforced by the Government.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed the guidance but noted that Scotland had allowed visiting sooner, adding: “every day really does matter after such a long period of forced separation”.

She added that, while the guidance is unlikely to lead to immediate change given decisions will be made locally, it will hopefully give some care homes the confidence to follow the examples of others who are already allowing safe visiting.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.

“We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.

“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited, so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone.”

Guidance for supported living settings will be published shortly, the DHSC said.

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