Friends and relatives visiting care home residents in England will still need to wear protective equipment and be advised to minimise physical contact beyond July 19, according to new Government guidance.
There will be no limit on the number of “named visitors” that a resident can receive and no national limit on how many can visit in a single day, according to updated guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It says all care homes which do not have coronavirus cases should seek to enable indoor visits, and each resident should be able to nominate a loved one to become an essential caregiver for personal care and support.
Visitors should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), limit contact with residents and staff, and maintain as much distance as possible.
They should be given advice on how to communicate while wearing a face covering, the guidance says.
If the home has an outbreak, defined as at least two Covid-19 cases among staff or residents, visiting should stop immediately except for in exceptional circumstances, such as if the resident is at the end of their life.
Visitors granted essential caregiver status can continue visiting if there is an outbreak, but not if they or the resident they are visiting tests positive, it says.
And homes with cases may decide to continue window or pod visits following a risk assessment.
It says visiting restrictions should continue for 14 days after the last positive test result, or 28 days if there is an outbreak involving a variant of concern other than the Alpha or Delta variants.
The guidance, published on Friday afternoon, will come into force on Monday as most legal restrictions for England are lifted.
Family members have said they are concerned that individual homes will lock down and restrict visitors as cases rise.
This week a care home group warned that some “once protective” measures in care homes are now harming residents’ welfare.
Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare said the damage that face masks on visitors is doing to the welfare of care home residents is outweighing the protection they offer.
The new guidance reads: “Though face coverings are no longer required by law in any setting, they reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, especially when there is close contact between people in enclosed and crowded spaces.
“Providers should consider how to limit close contact between people in enclosed spaces and support the use of face coverings in these circumstances.”
The document acknowledges that visiting duration and frequency will likely be “limited by setting-specific constraints”, such as how many families request visits and the homes’ layout.
It recommends that care homes have a simple booking system and warns that “unannounced visits may not be possible”.
And it says that, while testing of visitors on site is preferable, they can provide evidence of a recent negative test undertaken elsewhere on the same day as the visit.
All decisions should be taken in light of legal obligations, such as those under the Equality Act and Human Rights Act, it says.