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Minister tells LBC she hopes people can soon 'hold hands' with loved ones in care homes
18 February 2021, 09:26
Care Minister Helen Whately has told LBC she wants people to be able to "hold hands with relatives in care homes" as reports suggest restrictions on care home visits may be reduced as part of the PM's roadmap out of lockdown.
Nick Ferrari asked the minister: "On Monday, the Prime Minister will set out his plans for our way out of lockdown, and there has been a lot of talk around whether family members will be able to see loved ones in care homes.
"Will that be part of his plan?"
Ms Whately responded: "I absolutely want to open up care homes to allow more visiting. I know this has been one of the hardest things about the pandemic, the restrictions on visiting and seeing loved ones.
"At the moment visiting is limited, you have to have a screen or a visiting pod or doing it through windows, and I know it's better than nothing but it is not the same as being able to hold somebody's hand and see them in the normal way."
The rollout of rapid-result lateral flow tests in the weeks up to Christmas enabled indoor visits in some care homes, with visitors testing negative able to hug their loved ones.
However, close contact indoor visits are not permitted during the current lockdown, but they can take place outdoors, through windows, in visiting pods, or indoors with a substantial screen.
Six groups are calling for urgent action to reopen care homes in England for meaningful indoor visits "as a matter of safety, common decency, and fundamental human rights".
As a first step, they say this must be in place for visitors who help with the essential care of their loved one by March 1.
They are calling on care providers, relatives and friends, local and national government and the care regulator to "work together to make this a reality".
Age UK, John's Campaign, the National Care Forum, Relatives & Residents, Rights for Residents and Registered Nursing Homes Association issued a joint statement last week.
Pushed on whether restrictions could be relaxed on Monday, Ms Whately said: "I want there to be news in the rollout on Monday and I absolutely want us to be able to enable more visiting.
Asked if it could be as early as next month, she replied: "That's what I want to see on Monday.
"I want to assure people who have family members in care homes that I am working to allow more visiting, I want people to get back to being able to hold hands and have that kind of contact again."
Last week, the Prime Minister appealed for caution because "far too many" deaths of older people are still occurring.
The Government has said it is looking to ensure a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available "when it is safe to do so".
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We know visits to care homes are crucial in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents, which is why we have updated guidance to ensure visits can continue to take place safely during periods of national lockdown."
He added: "While the vaccines provide protection from serious disease, we do not yet know if they prevent someone from passing on the virus to others. This means it is still important to follow the visiting guidance.
"We will do everything possible to make close contact visits possible the moment it is safe to do so."