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Call to ensure care home residents can be visited by relatives during lockdown

Sixty care organisations have called on the Government to make sure care home residents can be visited by relatives and loved ones during lockdown.

The organisations, brought together by the National Care Forum, a member association for not-for-profit social care providers – have sent an open letter to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Helen Whately, Minister for Care, calling on the government to ensure that care homes are supported to enable visits by families and loved ones.

Chiefs from organisations including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Carers UK and Amnesty International have signed the letter, which calls on the Government to adopt this position in any new regulations it is drafting for the care sector to cover the national lockdown and the aftermath.

The National Care Forum said: “Isolation caused by blanket bans on visiting in care homes is intrinsically harmful and evidence of the extreme anguish caused is widely known.

“Locking down care homes in March was an emergency response to the global pandemic caused by a virus about which little was known.

“Eight months on, more is understood about the risks of transmission and measures are in place to keep people safe. People in care homes and their loved ones in the community have fundamental human rights, both as individuals and as a community, and a ban on visiting denies those rights.

“For older people in particular, who have on average a stay of two years in a care home, there simply isn’t enough time for many of those living in care homes today to watch and wait.

“The Government has announced a pilot around testing visitors. However, those living in care homes need visits now. The current tiered approach has already placed 50 per cent of care homes and their residents under a default of blanket visiting restrictions. This cannot remain the accepted position.”

The letter asks for:

  • Government to fully support testing of visitors to help the management of the virus;
  • Enable designation of one person, as a minimum, per resident as a ‘key visitor’ who is eligible for regular testing, PPE and training alongside the care home staff, so they can visit frequently and for longer;
  • Enable every care home to manage visiting in the individual way that works best for them, their environment, residents and their workforce and empower providers to work this out by talking with all their residents, their loved ones and staff;
  • Support all care homes to create safe COVID-19 visiting spaces to use to facilitate safe visits;
  • Work together across the entire health and care sector to support care home visiting, including CQC, local authorities and DPHs, and health and care staff;
  • Government to provide indemnification or unblock restrictive insurance policies creating barriers to visiting.

Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, added: “We all understand that visiting in care homes is a very human balancing act that centres around people and their needs, and the risks for those living and working within a care home and relatives and friends too.

“However, we must balance the risk of harm from COVID-19 with the risk of harm from isolation and physical, mental, emotional deterioration.

“NCF has brought this coalition together to ensure the government is in no doubt about the wide range of voices who have joined this call for action. They represent the voices of residents, relatives, the workforce, care providers, academics, sector experts and allies. They must be listened to.

“The coalition has a clear set of asks around testing of visitors and the designation of one person (as a minimum) per resident as a key visitor, as well as enabling every care home to manage visiting in the way that best works for them, with help to create safe COVID-19 visiting spaces.

“We must work together at pace to have this in place. None of this is easy, but nothing that matters ever is.”