After promising its release nearly two weeks ago, Government has today published care home visiting guidance to allow residents and families to be reunited.
Government states that the rate of community transmission has fallen enough that care homes can now arrange visits based on this new guidance which intends to limit further outbreaks and protect staff and residents.
Local Directors of Public Health will lead assessments on visiting within their local authority. They will be expected to take a measured, risk-assessed approach, considering the situation in specific care homes as well as the community context, including any local outbreaks.
Matt Hancock, Health & Social Care Secretary, said, '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.'
Amongst other recommendations, the care home visiting guidance suggests:
- Care home providers should encourage all visitors to wear a face covering and to wash their hands thoroughly before and after putting it on and taking it off.
- Visitors should also wear appropriate further PPE depending on the need of their visit, including gloves and aprons.
- Providers should consider whether visits could take place in a communal garden or outdoor area, which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building.
- Where visits do go ahead, this should be limited to a single constant visitor, per resident, wherever possible. This is to limit the overall number of visitors to the care home and the consequent risk of infection.
Minister for Care Helen Whately said, 'The social care workforce has gone above and beyond during the pandemic and I am hugely grateful to everyone working in care homes for all they have done to protect residents and staff and help save lives during these challenging times.
'We know how important it is for families and friends to be able to visit their loved ones. This guidance sets out how families and residents can safely come together again.'
All care homes should only relax visiting arrangements for specific individual needs and continue to take the health protection of the whole care home as their main objective.
Government also asks care homes to support NHS Test and Trace by keeping a temporary record, including address and phone number, of current and previous residents, staff and visitors as well as keeping track of visitor numbers and staff. It is recommended they have an arrangement to enable bookings or appointments for visitors – ad hoc visits should not be permitted.
Lisa Lenton, Chair of the Care Providers Alliance (CPA) says, 'The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll in many ways. The effect of not being able to see friends and family has been very difficult and very upsetting for many - both for the people who access care and support, and for their loved ones who have been isolated. The Care Provider Alliance welcomes this overdue guidance - the CPA has been calling for Government guidance for many weeks and released its own visitors protocol last month in its absence. People need people and this is such an important step for the wellbeing of individuals and their relatives.'
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs, National Autistic Society commented, 'Thousands of autistic people in residential care haven’t been able to see their families in months. Many will have found it very difficult to understand why their parents, siblings and other relatives have stopped coming to see them. Today’s news will come as a huge relief for many families across England who have been apart from their children and loved ones for far too long.
'It’s vital that local decision makers now work with care homes to make visits possible, while ensuring everyone is kept safe, to finally reunite thousands of autistic people with their families.'
Care England, however, has concerns about the scope of the guidance. Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, says, '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.
'This guidance fails to consider the issues around visitors and residents leaving the care setting. As lockdown lifts we are likely to see many care providers and relatives wanting to take their loved one out for visits. Also, we need to look beyond outdoor visits and recognise that these new conditions may be with us for quite some time. The failure to acknowledge this nuance underscores the lack of governmental understanding of the complexities present within the adult social care sector.'