Care home residents are set to be reunited with friends and family as visits begin again following the publication of new guidance today (22 July).
The isolating effects of lockdown have been difficult for residents and families, but the rate of community transmission has fallen and care homes can now arrange visits based on new guidance to limit further outbreaks, and protect staff and residents.
These arrangements will be based on the advice set out in new guidance to limit any 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 and Social Care Secretary, said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.
“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.”
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 wear appropriate further PPE depending on the need of their visit, including gloves and aprons. Providers should also consider whether visits could take place in a communal garden or outdoor area, which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building.
To limit risk 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.”
The latest guidance maximises the input of local professionals, who will have the greatest awareness of community transmission in their area while taking into account the needs of individual residents.
It is expected all care homes will still only relax visiting arrangements for specific individual needs and continue to take the health protection of the whole care home as their main objective, but those wishing to visit should speak to the care homes before a planned visit.
Care homes should 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.
Professor Jim McManus, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “We know it is incredibly difficult to be separated from loved ones but the restrictions were essential to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This new guidance will support directors of public health, working with directors of adult social care and the local care sector, to take a risk-based approach to enabling visits where possible whilst trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to – and between – care home residents, staff and the wider community.”
Lisa Lenton, Chair, Care Providers Alliance: “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: “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.”
This guidance received input from a number of stakeholders across social care and local government including Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society UK, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Association of Directors of Public Health, Care England, Local Government Association, National Autistic Society and National Care Forum among others.