MPs call for care home visiting rights to be underpinned by law

5 May 2021, 12:23 | Updated: 5 May 2021, 13:19

Current guidance says care home residents in England can nominate up to two named visitors for regular visits
Current guidance says care home residents in England can nominate up to two named visitors for regular visits. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The right of care home residents to receive visits from family must be underpinned by law, according to new report.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), which is made up of MPs and peers, said it is "completely unacceptable" for some care home providers to argue it is not safe to follow government guidance.

Current guidance says care home residents in England can nominate up to two named visitors for regular visits, and residents with the highest care needs can also nominate an essential care giver.

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It says staff should not make blanket decisions for groups of people and that the individual resident's views, needs and wellbeing should be taken into account when making visiting decisions.

But the JCHR said providers have not felt bound by the guidance as it is not underpinned in law.

The committee said anecdotal evidence heard as part of its inquiry suggests a "large number" of care homes are not following government guidance.

This could include blanket policies on length and type of visit, and denying residents the right to an essential care giver, as well as blanket bans.

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It said it is "astonishing" that, during evidence in April, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said it was not aware of any care home in England failing to follow the guidance.

The committee has drafted a statutory instrument to lay before Parliament addressing these concerns.

Harriet Harman, Labour MP and committee chairwoman, said the pandemic has been heartbreaking for "far too many" families whose right to family life has been breached.

She said: "By not underpinning this guidance in law, care homes have not felt bound by it and important rights have therefore not been respected.

"The Care Quality Commission (CQC) assurances that visits are being allowed properly now in all homes is wholly unconvincing.

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"Because care homes see guidance about allowing visits as advisory rather than binding, the Government must now bring forward regulations to give their guidance on visits legal force."

The JCHR urged the CQC to "get a grip" and ensure robust processes are in place for monitoring adherence and collecting data on visits by the end of May.

Kate Terroni, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, said: "We have been clear throughout the pandemic that the individual must be at the centre of decisions around visiting. Blanket approaches to visiting are unacceptable and may trigger an inspection."

She said over the last eight weeks the CQC has carried out 941 inspections, finding that 95% of care homes were enabling visiting to happen while "action was taken with those 5% of providers where we were somewhat assured or not assured".

She added: "Concerns have been raised with us about 30 potential blanket bans and we have taken action in every case, including following up with providers, inspecting, raising safeguarding alerts where appropriate and following up with local authorities."