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Covid: Care Homes Advised To Allow Visitors In England During Lockdown

November 5, 2020

Care homes must provide a Covid-secure environment – such as floor-to-ceiling screens or visiting pods – to allow families to visit loved ones during the new lockdown, the government says.

The updated guidance for care homes in England comes into effect on Thursday.

It says all residents should be able “to receive visits from their family and friends in a Covid-secure way”.

However, charities have criticised the guidance for suggesting measures that won’t be practical for some residents.

All face-to-face visits were banned during the first national lockdown at the height of the pandemic in the spring.

Guidance in England over recent months has allowed visits on a “limited basis” where alternative arrangements were not possible, but visits have been severely curtailed or prohibited entirely in those areas subject to enhanced restrictions, which have applied to large parts of England.

Under the updated government guidance, care homes – especially those who haven’t allowed visits since March – “will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities”.

It says visits should be “tailored to residents and facilities and should prioritise residents and staff’s safety” to limit the spread of coronavirus, with measures such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The guidance also suggests:

  • Visitors and residents enter through different entrances, meet in Covid-secure areas/pods separated by floor-to-ceiling screens, and visitors should not enter or pass through the care home
  • Window visits where visitors don’t need to come inside the care home or they remain in their car, and the resident is socially distanced
  • Outdoor visits – with one other person – in areas which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building
  • Virtual visits, with care homes encouraging the use of video calls

Health Secretary Matt Hancock 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.

He said he knew “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, adding that “we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible”.

‘Prison-style screens’

However, Kate Lee, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’re devastated by today’s new care home visitor guidance – it completely misses the point: this attempt to protect people will kill them.”

She said the pandemic had left people with dementia isolated and thousands had died. The guidelines “completely ignore the vital role of family carers in providing the care for their loved ones with dementia that no one else can”, she added.

She said the “prison-style screens” proposed by the government with people speaking through phones were “frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak”.

That view was echoed by Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, who said she was “acutely aware” that the methods being sanctioned were “unlikely to be useable by many older people with dementia, or indeed sensory loss”.

She added: “Overall we think this new guidance is too restrictive. In practice we fear it will result in many care homes halting meaningful visiting altogether, because they will be unable to comply with the requirements laid down.”

The government has outlined plans to carry out testing on visitors to care homes, with trials to begin later this month.

It also said a new national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes would be “rolled out in the coming weeks” following a pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.

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