Care home residents in England will be able to receive two visitors indoors from Monday 12th April, as COVID-19 restrictions continue to be cautiously eased.
Visitors will be asked to provide a negative test result and wear PPE during the visit to keep themselves, staff and residents, safe.
In the coming weeks, as testing capacity continues to increase, some visitors will be able to conduct tests at home rather than at care homes to help manage the flow of visitors and allow more visits to take place.
Visitors who are parents will also be able to visit with babies and very young children, who will not count as one of the visitors. This means grandparents and great-grandparents will be able to meet the newest members of their families for the first time.
All care homes, except in the event of an active outbreak, should seek to enable:
- Indoor visiting by up to 2 ‘named visitors’ for each resident. These visitors will need to take a rapid lateral flow test and test negative before every visit. They should minimise physical contact with residents. They must observe social distancing and PPE use, and follow all necessary infection control measures. Visitors and residents may wish to hold hands but should bear in mind that any physical contact increases the risk of transmission. For this reason, there should not be close physical contact such as hugging.
- Additionally, residents with higher care needs can also choose to nominate an ‘essential caregiver’ who can provide close contact personal care where it is critical for the resident’s immediate health and wellbeing. These ‘essential caregivers’ will be supported to follow the same testing arrangements and the same PPE and infection control arrangements, as care home staff.
- Opportunities for every resident to see more people than just their named visitors, by enabling outdoor visiting and ‘screened’ visits.
- Visits in exceptional circumstances including end of life should always be enabled. The situation described for essential caregivers is considered an exceptional circumstance and should therefore continue in the event of an outbreak unless there are specific reasons not to do so.
The Government said that in all cases, it is essential that visiting happens within a wider care home environment of robust infection prevention and control (IPC) measures, including ensuring that visitors follow (and are supported to follow) good practice with social distancing, hand hygiene and PPE use.
In the event of an outbreak in a care home, the home should immediately stop visiting (except in exceptional circumstances such as end of life – and for essential caregivers) to protect vulnerable residents, staff and visitors.
The drop in community infection rates and the successful rollout of vaccinations in care homes means the increase in visiting planned in the roadmap can go ahead as long as infection prevention and control measures remain in place. Further opportunities for relatives and contacts to have outdoor, pod and screen visits will continue in line with the published guidance which has been in place during the lockdown.
Some residents, such as those with advanced dementia, some autistic people and people with a learning disability need a trusted person to provide some aspects of their care, which is why the essential caregiver scheme will also be extended.
All care home providers, not experiencing an outbreak, will be asked to follow the updated guidance and continue to work together with families, and local professionals, to ensure visits are possible while continuing to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Almost 94% of eligible older people’s care home residents have received their first dose of vaccine and almost 78% of care home staff.
The Government said that its aim is that by the summer, care home visiting will feel as relaxed and normal as possible – retaining only those infection prevention and control measures that are needed to protect the most vulnerable residents from the risk of infection. As with all elements of the roadmap, the Government will continue to be guided by the evidence, which they will review again before making any further changes to visiting policy at the next step (no earlier than 17 May 2021). The updated guidance acknowledges that 'each care home is unique in its physical environment and facilities and the needs and wishes of their residents. As such, care home managers are best placed to develop policies (in consultation with residents and their relatives) to ensure that visits described in this guidance are provided in the best way for individual residents, their loved ones, and care home staff. Care home managers should feel empowered to exercise their judgment when developing practical arrangements or advice to put this guidance into practice so that visiting can take place smoothly and comfortably for everyone in the care home.'
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said, ‘I’m pleased we were able to introduce more meaningful visits to care homes in March. Seeing friends and family reunited has been incredibly moving. Thank you to all of our amazing care workers for helping to make this possible.
‘We want to go further, so we’re allowing more visitors at this next stage of the roadmap - and our aim is to make visiting care homes as normal as possible by the summer. We know how cruel this virus can be in care homes so we must continue to follow the science and data, but things are looking up.’
Vida Healthcare’s Gil Chimon, home manager at Vida Grange, said, ‘The reopening of care homes to one visitor per resident from 8 March was a fantastic morale boost which was welcomed by staff and families alike. We’ve seen some incredibly emotional scenes of families reconnecting with their loved ones which have been very humbling. The planned extension of the number of visitors to 2 per resident from 12 April is an exciting step in our journey back to normality, and we’re really looking forward to more family members and friends being able to reunite with their loved ones.’
Visit the Government website to read the updated guidance on visiting.