All care home residents in England should be allowed to receive visits from their family and friends in a Covid-secure way, the government has announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the new guidance, which includes maintaining social distancing and using PPE, will be used when national restrictions come into place tomorrow (November 5).
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.
It will set out clear principles for how visits are conducted, with arrangements to be adapted from home to home, based on the needs of their residents and taking into consideration factors such as layout and facilities, and reiterates the importance of ensuring social distancing and proper PPE use is observed.
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 doesn’t 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 and;
- Further support for virtual visits, encouraging the use of video calls.
Earlier this week, a coalition of more than 60 organisations, brought together by the National Care Forum (NCF), called on the government to ensure that care homes are supported to enable visits by families and loved ones, now and in the future.
The Whitehall department said 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.
A new national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes, including community nurses and physiotherapists, will also be rolled out in the coming weeks following a successful pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I know how heart-breaking and incredibly frustrating it has been for families and friends who haven’t been able to see their loved ones during the pandemic.
‘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 resident’s lives, but we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible.’
Responding to the announcement, shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said the new guidance is ‘not good enough’.
‘Many care homes simply won’t be able to comply with the government’s requirements, and so in reality thousands of families are likely to be banned from visiting their loved ones,’ said Ms Kendall.
‘Instead of requiring floor to ceiling screens for indoor visits, or outdoor ‘window’ visits that won’t work for many people with dementia and because of the winter weather, the government should instead designate a single family member as a key worker – making them a priority for weekly testing and proper PPE just as is supposed to happen for care home staff.’
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