Care homes are set to expect guidance on visits during lockdown according to a Government press release issued yesterday. However, the guidelines set out in the release do not solve the problem, care providers have warned.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said care homes will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities as new national restrictions come into effect today.
Government has said the guidance will enable care home providers, families, and local professionals to work together to find the right balance between the benefits of visiting on wellbeing and quality of life, and the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to social care staff and vulnerable residents.
The press release suggests that options for safe care home visits in line with the guidance could include:
- Visits using COVID-secure visiting areas/pods with floor to ceiling screens and windows where the visitor and resident enter through different entrances, are separated by screens and visitors do not need to enter or pass through the care home.
- Visits at windows, where the visitor does not need to come inside the care home or where the visitor remains in their car, and the resident is socially distanced.
- Outdoor visits with one other person – visitors can meet outside with a loved one, in areas which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building.
- Further support for virtual visits, encouraging the use of video calls.
Plans are currently being developed to allow specific family and friends to visit care homes supported by testing. A sector-led group is overseeing the development of these plans with trials set to begin later this month.
Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary said, ‘Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities. We’ve seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.
‘It is vital high quality, compassionate care and infection control remains at the heart of every single care home to protect staff and residents.’
The Independent Care Group (ICG) welcomed the Government guidance as evidence that it was addressing the issue. But it said the guidance did not go far enough and called for Government to:
- Urgently allow negative-tested family and friends to visit residents properly.
- Provide extra funding to enable providers to safely reintroduce visiting.
- Indemnify care providers against legal action over COVID-19 deaths.
Mike Padgham, ICG Chair said, ‘We are pleased that the Government has recognised that visiting is an issue, but these guidelines do not take us much further than we already are.
‘We know what needs to be done: enable a designated relative or friend to be regarded as a key worker and have regular tests so that they can visit properly.’
The ICG says Government suggestions for pods and screens will have huge financial implications for providers but with no extra support on the table. It is also dismayed that the Government has not agreed to indemnify care providers against legal action over people who die from COVID-19 in care settings.
Care England has called for greater clarity around the Department of Health and Social Care's (DHSC) revised position on care home visiting.
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England said, ‘We sent the Secretary of State some visiting principles last month and hope that they will be considered when the fuller guidance is issued. We anticipate that visiting will remain a prevalent topic at our conference next week; we have many unanswered questions. We are really upset that a proper policy has not been published in time when a second lockdown was always on the cards.
'There is a continued importance of balancing safety with wellbeing and Care England awaits further details from the DHSC on its latest guidance for care homes for older people and those for younger adults. Care providers cannot prepare overnight, they need time, assurance and confidence in the guidance. Moreover, any new protocol needs to include indemnity for care providers.'
The National Care Forum (NCF) acknowledges the sentiment expressed in the government press release but is very concerned about the lack of meaningful guidance as we enter the national lockdown.
Vic Rayner, Executive Director of NCF said, ‘It is very important that the Secretary of State and the Care Minister have understood just how vital visiting is to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in care homes, and how heart-breaking it is to be separated from families and friends. However, warm words will not escape the fact that these arrangements, without urgent support, will leave many, literally, out in the cold.
‘We call on the government to urgently clarify what these arrangements mean in practice, and as a bare minimum to provide homes with additional financial support to rapidly put the necessary measures in place, so that visiting can be a reality for all in care homes during this period. The guidance needs to be practicable, supportive, resource and facilitate meaningful visits that relatives and residents can gain from, and that care homes can provide. We urge the government to ensure that the detailed guidance is flexible enough to support meaningful visiting, balancing risks without rigid criteria.’
Care homes expect guidance on visits to be published in full on the Government website.
Read the letter from the coalition, which may have helped to influence the Government’s decision to allow visitors in care homes during the second national lockdown.