Ban on care home visits during winter lockdown would violate ‘fundamental human rights’

A ban on care home visits in the winter lockdown would violate the “fundamental human rights” of residents and their families, the National Care Forum (NCF) has told Matt Hancock in a letter.

In the letter signed by 60 organisations, NCF leaders have urged the Health Secretary, along with Social Care Secretary Helen Whately, to allow limited numbers of relatives to visit care homes.

Government guidelines currently tell care homes to “follow existing guidance” with more to come ahead of the lockdown, which will be introduced from Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference in October, Boris Johnson acknowledged the situation is “absolutely wretched” for people unable to see loved ones in care homes, adding he was “certainly looking at what we can do to… allow people to visit their elderly relatives in extreme circumstances”.

Vic Rayner (pictured), executive director of the NCF, said their letter is signed by a coalition of residents, relatives, care providers and academics who “must be listened to”.

She said: “We must balance the risk of harm from Covid-19 with the risk of harm from isolation and physical, mental, and emotional deterioration (for residents).

“The coalition has a clear set of asks around testing of visitors and the designation of one person (as a minimum) per resident as a key visitor, as well as enabling every care home to manage visiting in the way that best works for them, with help to create safe Covid-19 visiting spaces.”

The letter states that banning care home visits in the first lockdown was an “emergency response” to a new virus, but this time “more is understood” about transmission and “measures are in place” to allow safe visiting.

The NCF adds that elderly residents have an average stay of two years in care homes and there “simply isn’t enough time to watch and wait”.

Caroline Abrahams, director of charity Age UK, one of the letter’s signatories, pointed out that France is allowing care home visits despite going into national lockdown.

Ms Abrahams said: “We believe the right approach during this second national lockdown is to continue to allow visiting to care homes on a case-by-case basis, provided it can be carried out safely.

“We have been heartened in recent days by some fantastic work going on in a growing number of local areas to organise safe visiting, with councils, care providers and families all working together.

“It would be a tragedy to undo this progress now, by imposing draconian measures that ignore the potential for safe visiting in some, perhaps many, places.”

Under the current tier system, care homes in the “medium” alert level can “develop a policy for limited visits” but areas in “high” alert must limit visits to “exceptional circumstances only such as end of life”.

The NCF said this has placed half of care homes and their residents under “a default of blanket visiting restrictions”.

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