Regulator not aware of any care homes in England failing to follow guidance on visits

The care regulator has said it is not aware of any care home in England that is failing to follow Government guidance on allowing visits.

Peter Wyman (pictured), chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said the watchdog has followed up and intervened where appropriate when concerns have been raised about visiting rights not being respected or blanket bans.

He told the Joint Committee on Human Rights the CQC is “constantly monitoring” the providers it regulates, but does not collect quantitative data on how many visits have occurred across these settings.

Last week the committee heard evidence from the campaign group Rights for Residents, which committee chairwoman Harriet Harman described as being “awash with anecdotal evidence” about visiting rights not being respected.

Current guidance says every care home resident can nominate up to two named visitors who will be able to enter the care home for regular visits.

In addition, residents with the highest care needs can nominate an essential care giver.

Mr Wyman told MPs and peers: “Now, at this moment, we are not aware of any home that is not providing appropriate visiting rights, and… where we have been contacted by relatives who have said ‘we haven’t got the visiting rights’, we have pursued that, and we’ve satisfied ourselves that either the visiting rights were always there and it was a communication failure, or there needed to be a change, so that the home has changed and the visiting rights are now there.

“So I can absolutely say that as of today, as of this moment, we are not aware of any home that is not making appropriate visiting rights in accordance with Government guidance.”

Asked if he thought the visiting guidance is advisory or that it must be followed, Mr Wyman said the CQC has been clear to providers that “we expect guidance from the Government to be complied with”.

He added: “I don’t think there is any reasonable reason for people to be regarding the guidance as just something that they can follow or not as they wish.”

Kate Terroni, CQC chief executive, said the regulator has heard “loud and clear” from loved ones that visits are going ahead, albeit very differently.

She told the hearing: “We’ve heard loud and clear from care home residents and from families that visiting is happening but it feels very different.

“It is booking a time slot, or it’s 30 minutes, or it’s in a different part of the homes to where families are used to visiting.

“So we absolutely hear that this is by nowhere ideal for care home residents or families.”

Responding to the assertion that the regulator is not aware of any home not providing visiting rights, Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said it “demonstrates how out of touch the CQC is with what is happening on the ground”.

She said the organisation’s helpline continues to hear from families who are unable to visit their loved ones, or who say the care home is applying blanket approaches and failing to carry out individual assessments.

She added: “For the regulator to be failing to actively monitor compliance, and using their lack of data to report to Parliament that all is well, is totally unacceptable.”

Care mnister Helen Whately, also giving evidence, said she relies on information from the CQC and care providers providing some data through its “Capacity Tracker” system to get a picture of the reality on the ground.

Since the latest visiting guidance on April 12 there has been a “steady increase in the number of care homes who say that they are supporting visiting”, she said.

She said a regional assurance team, which follows up with providers after looking at the data, is hearing of only “small handfuls” of care homes that are not supporting visits, and the most common reason is being in the midst of an outbreak where only end-of-life visits should go ahead.

Asked if there should be a register of how many visits are taking place, Ms Whately said she would like to see this but was conscious that care staff are “already really, really stretched”.

The committee also asked about the requirement in Government guidance for residents to isolate for 14 days after leaving their home.

The Government has been threatened with legal action over the rule, which campaigners say encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents.

Dr Eamonn O’Moore, part of Public Health England’s adult social care Covid-19 response, said discussions are under way on how to “nuance some of the approaches” to people returning from visits out.

He told the hearing: “We are currently in the process of consulting with our experts and stakeholders to see if there were ways in which we could more effectively delineate types of activities with appropriate safeguards that might not require isolation for 14 days.”

He assured the committee that this is “under active review, and with a timescale that coincides both with the rolling implementation of the second dose of vaccines across care homes, cognisant of the reducing levels of infection in the community, mindful of the threat from variants of concern, and particularly aware that some of those may have vaccine escape potential and/or increased risk of transmissibility and/or more clinical impact”.

Pressed on a timeframe, he said this could occur from May onwards.

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