'Barbaric' care home self-isolation rule axed for 'low risk' trips

1 May 2021, 00:03 | Updated: 1 May 2021, 09:17

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

People living in care homes will be free to leave for "low risk" trips without needing to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, ministers have said after being threatened with legal action.

Care home residents will be allowed to leave their homes for a walk or to visit a loved one's garden from Tuesday, without the need to quarantine upon their return.

However, it is understood that those leaving for medical appointments and overnight visits will still need to lock themselves away for two weeks when back at their home.

Care home resident Jim Kelly said he hasn't been out in months and all he wanted to do is go and see his wife's grave when the restrictions lift on Tuesday.

"I would think the first thing I would like to do is to go and see my wife's grave," he said.

"She passed away in September and I've felt like a prisoner ever since."

On Friday, LBC presenter Nick Ferrari hit out at the current rule branded "barbaric" by the families of residents.

"I don't know that you could treat animals like that without there being an outcry," he said.

Responding to the announcement, campaigners warned "the devil will be in the detail" and that they will be scrutinising the new guidance once it is published "to ensure that it is lawful and fit for purpose".

Watch: Nick Ferrari hits out at 'barbaric' care home isolation rules

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But on Saturday, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced it will drop the self-isolation requirement for visits considered "low risk" or outdoors.

It comes after the government was threatened with legal action by the charity John's Campaign.

The organisation said the requirement encourages care homes to act unlawfully by "falsely imprisoning" residents.

But the new rules will allow those living in care homes to go on visits with either a member of staff or one of their two nominated visitors present.

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Social distancing measures must be obtained throughout the trip and they cannot meet in groups or go indoors - except for when using toilets - and public transport should be avoided where possible.

It is understood residents will be free to eat outside at restaurants or caf├ęs with their care worker or nominated visitor. However, this will need to be agreed to in advance with the care home.

But they will be allowed to vote in person during the upcoming local elections without the need to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards.

More visits could be permitted when the DHSC reviews the self-isolation rules at the next stage of the government's roadmap on 17 May.

It comes as new data revealed that 95 per cent of elderly residents have received their first dose Covid jab, while 71 per cent have received their second.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We know how challenging this time has been for care home residents, so I am pleased that they can now leave their homes to reunite with their loved ones outdoors.

"With the data continuing to head in the right direction and as restrictions ease, it is my priority to keep increasing visits for residents in the coming weeks in a safe and controlled way."

Care Minister Helen Whately added: "I know residents and their families have found the restrictions on trips out of care homes incredibly difficult.

"This is one more step towards getting back to normal, while protecting care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.

"As part of this interim update before the next stage of the roadmap, care home residents will also be able to leave to spend time outdoors.

"I know this has been long-awaited for those who haven't had a chance to enjoy trips out. I look forward to encouraging more visiting and trips out in future as we turn the tide on this cruel virus."

The DHSC said updated guidance will be published in due course.

John's Campaign co-founder Nicci Gerrard called the news a "chink of light for residents of care homes and their families", adding: "But why did this rule ever exist in the first place - depriving people of their liberty, turning care homes into prison, treating one group of people with such cruelty?"

Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory, who is representing John's Campaign, said: "It appears under the threat of legal proceedings, which the John's Campaign were due to issue next week, the government has finally agreed to drop the blanket requirement that care home residents self-isolate for 14 days following any visit out.

"This will be a huge relief to residents, families and care homes who have all been crying out for change.

"This is good news but as always the devil will be in the detail and John's Campaign will be scrutinising the new guidance once it is published to ensure that it is lawful and fit for purpose."