Care homes: More visitors and 'greater freedoms' for residents in England

10 May 2021, 19:09 | Updated: 10 May 2021, 20:28

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Care home residents in England will be allowed up to five named visitors and will no longer be required to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving the home to attend medical appointments - a triumph for Shelagh Fogarty after her passionate campaign.

As lockdown has eased, Shelagh Fogarty and Nick Ferrari have championed the rights of residents, calling for the Government to permit loved ones to visit.

Shelagh, in particular, has been vocal about Covid care home rules which had "gone too far" and resulted in a "breach of people's right to a family life".

The LBC presenter said: "This is about people sitting with relatives quietly... and of course that should all be done with great care at the moment.

"And, of course, it should be done within, not just the spirit, but within the sensible guidelines that all of us are adhering to as we leave this lockdown slowly but surely."

Speaking during the Downing Street Covid-19 press briefing, Boris Johnson confirmed the rule changes will come into effect on 17 May alongside more national lockdown restrictions being lifted.

Watch: Caller describes harrowing care home visit which left her 'shaken'

Watch: Tory MP pledges to take up care home visits cause with Minister

The change, as part of the government's third step of its roadmap, will mark an emotional moment for residents and many of their loved ones who have been kept away from each other for months.

It comes following a passionate campaign by LBC presenters Nick Ferrari and Shelagh Fogarty who have pushed ministers and care homes to reverse the "barbaric" rules.

On Monday, the prime minister said the number of visitors would increase from two people to five per resident.

Meanwhile, guidance from the Cabinet Office says residents will be allowed to have a maximum of two visitors at any one time, not including very young children or essential care givers.

They will also be free to leave their residence for more trips without needing to isolate for 14 days upon return.

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

Watch: Nadhim Zahawi pleads for care homes to 'work with us' to allow visitors

This will include visiting hospitals as outpatients, GPs, dentists and day centres as well as workplaces and educational settings.

Following an overnight stay, including an overnight hospital visit, residents will still be required to isolate for 14 days. They will also be advised to take a Covid test prior to leaving the facility.

Adults who become a resident of a care home will also need to isolate from other residents for 14 days.

Mr Johnson told the Downing Street press conference: "We will increase the number of named visitors for those in care homes from two to five, and residents will have greater freedoms to leave their home without having to isolate on their return."

The update comes following a reduction in coronavirus cases and the ongoing success of the vaccine rollout, the government said, with 95 per cent of older care home residents receiving their first jab.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: "The measures we have taken during this pandemic have always been to protect our most vulnerable, but I have heard first-hand from those living and working in care homes how difficult the restrictions have been.

“Thanks to the phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout and a reduction in cases across the country, I am pleased we can now take another step towards getting back to normal, while protecting those in care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.

“The new guidance allows more family and friends to reunite and reduces the need to self-isolate, which I know many have found incredibly challenging.  As we turn the tide on this cruel virus I want to make visiting as normal as possible by the summer, and this is an important step on that path.”

From 17 May, the period when a Covid-19 outbreak in a care home can be declared over will also change from 28 days to 14 days after the last infection, assuming there are no variants of concern identified.

This means visits can resume sooner following an outbreak, once the relevant testing has been completed and provided all staff and residents provide a negative test result.

Chief nurse for adult social care, Professor Deborah Sturdy, said: “The pandemic has been so difficult for those living in care homes and our social care workforce have done a brilliant job of keeping their residents safe and supported. I know this change to the guidance will be a huge boost to so many, giving more people the chance to reunite with more of their friends and family.”

Chair of the adult social care Covid-19 taskforce, Sir David Pearson, said: “I would like to thank all our social care workers for their efforts during the last very difficult year, and for having the vaccine and supporting those they care for to get vaccinated.

“This is a significant step on the road to normality for so many. We are only able to increase visits in and out of care homes thanks to the hard work of social care staff maintaining good infection prevention and control, and the effect of the vaccines in driving down transmission.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said updated guidance will be published shortly and that it will be kept under review with a view to removing further restrictions as soon as possible.