A charity has criticised the Government’s latest guidance on safe visits to care homes during the second lockdown, saying it will not be appropriate for people with dementia.
The guidance, published yesterday (4 November), said all care home residents should be allowed to have visitors over the lockdown period but advised providers to use measures such as floor to ceiling screens, visiting pods, and window visits to make visits ‘Covid-secure’.
Kate Lee, Alzheimer’s Society’s chief executive, said the charity was ‘devastated’ by the advice and that it ‘completely misses the point’.
‘The prison style screens the Government proposes are frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak. They won’t understand and will be distressed by what’s going on around them,’ she said.
She also questioned what evidence the guidance was based on, pointing to documents published by SAGE, which declared care home visits as ‘low risk’ for transmission of the virus.
Care minister Helen Whately said ‘we must get the balance right’ between reuniting families and keeping residents and staff safe.
Take advice from public health directors
The guidance, which applies for the period of national restrictions starting today (5 November), said that care homes are ‘best placed’ to decide how arrangements for visits will be achieved in practice, but that providers must ensure a number of principles are met before doing so.
This includes limiting visits to a ‘single constant visitor’ wherever possible, maintaining social distancing and high quality infection control, and ensuring appropriate PPE is used.
The guidance also requires care homes to carry out a risk assessment for visiting – which it said should take into account the advice of local public health directors – to ‘assess and balance’ the risk of local Covid cases and the ability of the home to manage visits safely.
‘In the event of an outbreak in a care home, the home should rapidly move to stop visiting (except in exceptional circumstances such as end of life) to protect vulnerable residents, staff and visitors,’ the document said.
Urgent clarification needed
This comes after the National Care Forum (NCF) and other sector bodies wrote an open letter to the Government earlier this week, calling for visits to continue during the second lockdown.
Vic Rayner, NCF’s executive director, welcomed the decision not to ban visits as a ‘positive step’ but said without urgent support the arrangements would leave many ‘out in the cold’.
‘We call on the Government to urgently clarify what these arrangements mean in practice, and as a bare minimum to provide homes with additional financial support to rapidly put the necessary measures in place so that visiting can be a reality for all in care homes during this period,’ she said.
‘Homes have been provided with less than 12 hours’ notice of the intention for them to be open for visitors, many in areas of the countries where directors of public health have prevented visits happening for many months.’
Weekly testing programme
Ms Whately acknowledged the impact visiting restrictions have had on families, friends and residents in care homes throughout the pandemic so far, and said she was ‘determined to bring loved ones back together’ during the second wave.
She added: ‘We are also working to trial testing for visitors, so that we can reduce the risk of indoor visits and give families more opportunities to spend time with relatives in care homes.
‘We must get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring care staff and residents are safe from Covid-19.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said a new national programme for weekly testing of health professionals who regularly visit care homes will also be rolled out in the coming weeks, following a pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.