Care home visits: Every key point from Government's new guidance

22 July 2020, 15:42

Care home visits will start to resume
Care home visits will start to resume. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

Care home residents in England split apart from their relatives can be reunited under new Government guidance was issued today.

Local officials will work with individual care homes to decide whether it is safe to resume limited socially-distanced visits. 

The fresh advice, released on Wednesday, is a change from the guidelines up until now which have halted visits during the coronavirus crisis. 

It will come as a welcome relief for many families who have not seen loved ones for months. Here, we explore the key points in the guidance. 

How decisions on care home visits will be made

In assessing whether to allow specific care homes to resume visits, local directors of public health and local authorities will consider local testing data and NHS Test and Trace uptake to judge whether the area is at risk of a coronavirus outbreak. 

They will draw up a “dynamic risk assessment which takes into account the significant vulnerability of residents in most care homes”. 

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Families have been unable to visit loved ones for months
Families have been unable to visit loved ones for months. Picture: Getty

Among the other factors that will be considered are results from weekly and monthly testing of care home residents, and the readiness of the home to respond to an outbreak.

If visits are approved, they will only be “limited” and curbs will be “rapidly” re-imposed if infections spike. 

What will the care home visits look like? 

Care homes are urged in the new guidance to limit visitor numbers to a “single constant visitor per resident, wherever possible”, for example the same family member each time. 

“This is in order to limit the overall number of visitors to the care home and/or to the individual, and the consequent risk of infection,” the guidance says. 

The vulnerability of individual residents to Covid-19 will also be considered by care homes and local authority chiefs. Those with dementia, learning disabilities or autism may be permitted visitors where restricting them could cause distress, the guidance states. 

Care homes are also being asked to consider whether they can hold visits outdoors or in communal gardens. Visitors are asked to wear face coverings and wash their hands thoroughly. 

In individual cases, wherever possible, visitors will be asked to wear further protective equipment such as gloves, aprons and possibly visors, if deemed necessary.  

Those wishing to plan a visit are asked to first speak to the relevant care home, with bosses urged to establish a booking system and avoid ad hoc visits. 

What have care homes said? 

Care England produced its own document for members on visiting learning disability providers on June 10 and supported a visitors protocol for residential care providers produced by the Care Provider Alliance on June 19.

The membership organisation, the country's largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, said it was "disappointed" the Government guidance had come so late.

Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: "This guidance should have been with care providers last month.

"We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector."

He added the guidance does not consider issues around visitors and residents leaving the premises, with many relatives likely to want to take their loved ones out.

What has the Government said? 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.

"We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.

"It is really important that we don't undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited, so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone."