Care home visits allowed in second English lockdown, Government confirms

4 November 2020, 15:15 | Updated: 4 November 2020, 15:38

Pensioners will be allowed to see relatives under the new guidance
Pensioners will be allowed to see relatives under the new guidance. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

All care home residents in England will be allowed to receive Covid-secure visits from their family and friends during the second national lockdown, the Government has said.

Care homes, especially those which have banned visits since March, will be encouraged to provide safe visiting opportunities with social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) when the lockdown begins on Thursday.

The Department of Health and Social Care cited a number of ways to allow visitors, including having designated visitor pods with floor-to-ceiling screens and separate entrances, as well as window-side visits.

Outdoor visits with one other person will be permitted, provided it can be accessed by the loved-one without going into the main building.

The guidance also encourages the use of video calls.

More specific guidelines will be published on the Government website “soon”, a department spokesman said.

It comes after charities, care home providers and families criticised the decision to ban care home visits except in "exceptional circumstances", such as end of life care, under tier three local lockdown restrictions in England.

Many pensioners were also left alone in care homes during the first national lockdown, prompting warnings about their mental health and wellbeing.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities.

“We’ve seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.

“It is vital high-quality, compassionate care and infection control remains at the heart of every single care home to protect staff and residents’ lives, but we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible.”

The Government has also announced plans – due to be trialled later this month – to allow specific family and friends to visit care homes supported by testing.

It means any provision will not be in place in time for the new lockdown measures coming into force.

The Government said a national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes, including community nurses and physiotherapists, would be rolled out in the coming weeks following a successful pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.

The guidance adds: “It is recommended homes have an arrangement to enable bookings or appointments for visitors and ad hoc visits should not be permitted.”

Helen Whately, the care minister, said: “I know how incredibly hard visiting restrictions have been for families, friends and residents in care homes.

“The accounts I have heard personally are truly heart-breaking, especially where care homes have been unable to reopen for visiting during the summer.

“We must get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring care staff and residents are safe from Covid-19.”