Care home visiting is stalling, warns charity

December 14, 2020

Age UK warns progress in resuming care home visiting is stalling and calls on everyone to pull together to make it happen.

The charity issues this warning as it publishes a new report, Behind the headlines: why in-person care home visiting must get going again, which lays bare the intense suffering experienced by many older people and their families and friends because of their enforced separation throughout much of the pandemic.

Age UK says it is worried that many older people living in care homes will not be reunited with their nearest and dearest by Christmas, as the Government has pledged, unless something changes fast.

The Government’s latest guidance says allowing visiting should be the default in every care home unless it is unsafe because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and Age UK agrees this is the right approach. However, reports suggest many families are yet to be reunited, with no hope immediately in sight.

To inform the report, Age UK carried out a snapshot survey of 2,732 people with which it is in contact, meaning that the study was not representative. Four in five (81%) of the people who responded had a loved one living in a care home or care home with nursing. The other one in five (19%) were residents of care homes or care homes with nursing, or people who live in or who have a loved one who lives in supported accommodation. The survey was open from 23rd October 2020, until 19th November 2020.

The key findings from the survey include:

  • 70% said that they had not been able to visit or see their loved one since the start of the pandemic.
  • 34%, or one in three, said that they had been offered no alternative to in person visiting, such as a video-call.
  • Nearly 70% of those who said they had been unable to visit their loved one since the start of the pandemic also added that digital and phone communication was not a good alternative to in-person visits in their case.
  • 45% of family, friends and residents who had been able to visit each other during the pandemic said that seeing their loved ones in person was vital because their loved one couldn’t use digital options.

A key theme that came through the findings was how terrible many families felt because they knew that their loved one would not understand why they weren’t visiting them and would feel abandoned and unloved. This was a particular fear when the older person in question was living with dementia.

People surveyed also said that their loved one had always been frightened that living in a care home would cut them off from their family, making them lonely, and that now this was happening they felt to blame, even though it was not their fault.

Against the backdrop of these findings, Age UK is calling on everyone involved in social care to ensure that in-person care home visiting gets going again now and that this becomes and remains the default position for the rest of the pandemic.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said, ‘Our new report demonstrates a depth of suffering among all those care home residents and families kept apart by the virus that’s tough to read about, let alone experience. Our hearts go out to the hundred of thousands caught up in this tragedy; it’s clear that for some, their sadness and despair are almost unbearable and in the case of families left behind following bereavement, something that is likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives.

‘It’s extremely disappointing that even with the Government’s new guidance encouraging in person visiting when the right precautions are in place many older people and their loved ones are still waiting to meet up, with no hope of that changing particularly soon. As one barrier is overcome another always seems always to take its place, whether it’s the pronounced risk aversion of some care home chains and their insurers, or a lack of confidence in Lateral Flow Tests among some local authorities.

‘Meanwhile, while these debates go on, far too many older people and their families are stuck in limbo, agonising over whether they’ll ever see each other again. For their sake above all we call on everyone involved - central and local government, care managers and staff, and local Directors of Public Health, to pull out the stops to get in person visiting up and running. Meeting their loved ones again is the Christmas present many older people in care homes and their families crave, a gift beyond compare.’

Read Age UK's full report, Behind the headlines: why in-person care home visiting must get going again.

Find out what the UK Government promised, in relation to resuming care home visiting.

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