Government policy on resumption of care home visits ‘too definitive’ – Care England

The Government was too “definitive” when it set a date for indoor care home visits to restart, the head of a leading care provider membership body has said.

Professor Martin Green (pictured), chief executive of Care England, said providers are being faced with a “stark choice”, but their priority must be the safety and care of residents.

The campaign group Rights for Residents told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the majority of members “are not getting this type of visits that they were promised” after the Government said they could restart from Monday.

The Government has said care home residents can receive regular indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative, who must be tested and wear protective gear.

Those with the highest care needs are also able to receive visits from a loved one providing essential care or support, with these visits permitted to continue even if the home has a coronavirus outbreak, unless there are “specific reasons”.

The resumption of visits is backed up by new visiting guidance, which is not mandatory.

Rights for Residents co-founder Jenny Morrison said it is a “very, very distressing time for relatives who unfortunately are in the main, not being reunited with their loved ones inside care homes”.

She said: “The guidance does say that visits should stop in the case of an outbreak, and of course that makes sense, because you know if you’ve got an outbreak of Covid in a care home you don’t want reams of relatives going in.

“But essential caregivers, as designated in the new guidance, (it) stipulates that those family members who have been assessed as being essential to the mental health and wellbeing of a loved one, their visits must continue during an outbreak as they are to be seen as an extension of the care staff.”

Asked how commonly the guidance is being “defied”, Prof Green told the programme: “Well, I don’t think we should talk about it being defied – it is being sometimes denied because of the risk profile.”

He continued: “So for example, we must acknowledge that people in care homes have high levels of comorbidities and are most susceptible to this virus.

“In terms of the policy, I think one of the problems has been that the policy is too definitive, and the reality is much more of shades of grey.

“So you know there have been also situations, and Liverpool was one of them in the past, where the Government was talking about people coming back into care homes, public health directors were saying: ‘No more visits.’

“We also have a prime minister who talks about being driven by the data and not by the dates, and yet we have a situation where they made a definitive date about the return of visits.”

Asked if the care of residents involves them being able to see their families, Prof Green replied: “It does, and we acknowledge that, but the reality is… that sometimes we are faced with a stark choice.

“It’s about having to protect the residents from dying of Covid.

“And also I think we should acknowledge that lots of care homes have opened up for visits, so this is not a situation where no care homes are opening up for visits, and we should also acknowledge that throughout the pandemic, many care homes have facilitated visiting, albeit it hasn’t been about physical contact.”

He added that care home operators will make visiting decisions based on the best interest of their residents, and said the suggestion that for some homes it is more convenient to stop visitors coming in is “completely untrue”.

Two weeks ago, the care regulator intervened after it emerged that blanket visiting bans were in operation in England contrary to the guidance in place at the time.

It said it may inspect homes if it receives reports of blanket visiting bans and will take regulatory action if appropriate.

Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow social care minister, said: “Reports that families are still unable to visit loved ones in care homes as promised are extremely worrying. Families are essential to the physical and mental health of their loved ones, and without visits many care home residents are fading fast.

“Alongside campaigners and charity groups we have warned that guidance alone is not enough.

“Ministers must bring forward legislation to enshrine residents’ rights to visits and end blanket visit bans.”

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