The Prime Minister has said people must remain “very cautious” around visiting elderly relatives because “far too many” deaths of older people are still occurring.
Boris Johnson said he understood people’s frustration around being separated from elderly loved ones, including care home residents, who may be nearing the end of their lives.
He was asked at the Downing Street press conference about whether it is “morally right” to not allow elderly people who have received a first vaccine dose to see relatives who have also been vaccinated.
Mr Johnson said: “I totally understand people’s feelings of frustration and how strongly people want to be able to see their elderly relatives.
“Steps have been taken with care homes to make them as Covid-secure as possible to allow people to be visited under very controlled circumstances, but you’ve seen the numbers in care homes lately… they remain very, very sad and we are seeing far too many deaths of elderly people, and so we’ve just got to remain very cautious for the time being.
“But as you can see, we are making huge progress through those groups and will go on in the weeks ahead.”
The comments come as the Labour party said it will urgently seek to ensure care home residents have their right to family visits enshrined in law.
The party is pushing for legislation would see those in care homes for older people, disabled people and those who live in supported living given the right to receive visits from families.
Labour said making this the default position would recognise the “anguish” separation has caused but also the significant role family members play in their loved one’s care.
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Liz Kendall, shadow minister for social care, said: “Thousands of families have been prevented from seeing their loved ones, many for almost a year. This has not only cased them terrible anguish but harmed the physical and mental health of care home residents too.”
“Government guidelines haven’t worked. We now need urgent action to enshrine the rights of all care home residents to have safe family visits, and to end blanket visit bans.
“Other countries are leading the way on this issue. Ministers here must now follow suit and bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency.”
It follows a call from the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) for a legal requirement for residents in care homes and mental health hospitals to be able to receive visits from a “significant person”.
The JCHR has presented draft regulations to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and urged him to make these into law immediately.
This would require care homes to allow visits unless, after individual assessment, a face-to-face visit is not possible for safety reasons.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said almost a year of isolation is putting many older people’s well-being and safety at risk.
She said: “The new law would ensure individual assessments are carried out to balance the risk of the virus and the risk to well-being of continued isolation.
“Callers to our helpline are desperate to hear a strategy and timetable from the Government about safely reopening care homes now that the vaccine has been rolled out.
“Both residents and their families need to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Current Government guidance says visiting is “vital” and should be supported and enabled wherever it is possible to do so safely.
It says care home visits can take place outdoors, through windows, in visiting pods, or indoors with a substantial screen, but close-contact indoor visits are not allowed.
End of life visits “should always be supported and enabled”.
The Government has said it is looking to ensure a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available “when it is safe to do so”.