All care home residents will be able to participate in more out of home visits without having to isolate on their return, the government has announced.
From May 4, residents will also be able to leave their care homes to visit a friend or family member’s garden, or go on walks in places such as parks, public gardens and beaches.
They will not have to self-isolate when they return. Residents must be accompanied by either a care worker or nominated visitor and follow the government guidelines of washing hands regularly, keeping social distance and remaining outside, in line with step two of the roadmap.
The changes come as the data shows cases continuing to fall meaning it is now much safer for care home residents, who are among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, to leave their homes. Keeping visits outdoors will ensure any risk is minimised as much as possible.
To take part in outdoor activities, residents must be accompanied by a member of care home staff or one of their nominated visitors and they cannot meet in groups as care home residents are most at risk from Covid-19.
Visits out of the care home should take place solely outdoors, except for the use of toilet facilities, with no visits to indoor spaces (public or private) and avoiding the use of public transport where possible.
An exemption will be in place for those who wish to vote in person in the upcoming local elections as long as they follow national coronavirus restrictions and measures in place at polling stations.
While the majority of residents will have made use of postal votes or a proxy, those who prefer to vote in person can do so on May 6.
The Independent Care Group (ICG) said the decision was a victory for common sense, as the threat from Covid-19 in the community recedes.
ICG chair Mike Padgham said: ‘This is welcome news and something we have been calling for over the past few weeks.
‘It seems sensible that a resident who has had both vaccinations can enjoy a safe, socially-distanced trip out to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
‘We know that the lack of social contact and visits has been detrimental to the health of residents and as others within the community start to enjoy freedom from the restraints of lockdown it is only right and fair that those in care and nursing homes do so too.
‘Our only gripe is that the government has announced that this can start immediately after the Bank Holiday, which doesn’t give care providers much time to prepare.
‘This will be quite labour intensive for care and nursing homes and I think residents and their families will have to show patience and understanding whilst these visits are organised.
‘We will have to tread carefully and trust that people taking residents out do obey the rules about not going indoors, for example. Overall, it is a very good move and we hope it can be the start of further easing of restrictions on care and nursing homes, once it is safe.’
Arrangements in areas with high, or rapidly rising, levels of infection in the local community and/or variants of concern (VoCs) will need additional local advice from directors of public health.
Latest statistics show that 95% of residents have received their first dose of the vaccine and 71% have received their second. Residents who have tested positive, or who have COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate and would therefore not be able to leave the care home.
In the event of an outbreak, all residents must self-isolate, and visits out suspended to prevent the spread of the virus. As part of the roadmap out of lockdown, guidance was updated on April 12 for care homes to increase visiting, and allow two nominated visitors per resident.
Guidance on visits out of care homes will be kept under review including, when the data shows it is safe, the requirement for residents to isolate on their return from a visit.
Care minister Helen Whately said: ‘I know residents and their families have found the restrictions on trips out of care homes incredibly difficult.
‘This is one more step towards getting back to normal, while protecting care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.
‘As part of this interim update before the next stage of the roadmap, care home residents will also be able to leave to spend time outdoors. I know this has been long-awaited for those who haven’t had a chance to enjoy trips out. I look forward to encouraging more visiting and trips out in future as we turn the tide on this cruel virus.’
Photo Credit – Centre for Ageing Better