More than 60 organisations have signed an open letter calling on the Government to allow care home visits to continue during the second national lockdown.
The letter, written by the National Care Forum (NCF), said care homes ‘must be supported to enable visits by families and loved ones’ both now and in future, adding that any ‘blanket ban’ in this area would lead to isolation and amount to an ‘erosion of people’s human rights’.
Visiting restrictions have been ‘intrinsically harmful’ to residents and caused ‘anguish’ during the pandemic, particularly for the elderly who do not have the time to ‘watch and wait’, and those who normally receive ‘everyday care’ from their visitors, it added.
This comes as the Government’s recent national lockdown regulations did not provide clarity for the sector and instead said that ‘guidance on care home visits will be published ahead of Thursday [5 November]’, when the new rules come into force.
The NCF said in the letter: ‘We understand why policymakers worry about the risk of Covid-19 in care homes, given the catastrophic suffering and loss of life earlier in the pandemic. But there is no evidence that a blanket ban on visiting, or near ban, is the right response.
‘It is also the case that homes are much better equipped now to manage any risk. There is much greater knowledge of transmission and infection prevention and control practices than there was in March. Homes should be fully supported to enable visiting.’
To make this happen the Government would need to support care homes, the letter added, through the provision of testing for visitors and the designation of at least one ‘key visitor’ who would be eligible for regular testing, PPE and training – all by the end of November.
‘Allow care homes to manage visiting’
The NCF also urged the Government to support care homes in creating safe Covid-19 visiting spaces and by providing indemnification or unblocking restrictive insurance policies that limit visiting.
It should allow care homes to manage visiting ‘in the individual way that works best for them, their environment, residents and their workforce’, it added.
The letter said the current guidance on care home visiting, which varies depending on the local risk level, has limited visiting significantly.
It said: ‘The current tiered approach has already placed 50% of care homes and their residents under a default of blanket visiting restrictions. This cannot remain the accepted position.’
Last week, Healthcare Leader reported that Gloucestershire county council has written to nearby care homes to recommend that they cease visiting ‘until the spring’, in response to the growing number of Covid cases in the area.
‘A balancing act’
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said: ‘We all understand that visiting in care homes is a 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.’
‘Priority is prevention of infections’
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Healthcare Leader: ‘We know limiting visits in care homes has been incredibly difficult for many families, but our first priority remains the prevention of infections to protect the lives of vulnerable residents.
‘We have introduced tightened infection prevention and control measures to enable visits to continue safely where possible, but have had to limit visiting in all but exceptional circumstances for areas with high rates of infection.’