Information on impact of care home residents’ isolation ‘strongly out of balance’ with coronavirus risk

Information about the impact of isolation on care home residents cut off from their loved ones during the pandemic was “strongly out of balance” with the evidence available on the risks of coronavirus, MPs and peers have been told.

Vic Rayner (pictured), chief executive of the National Care Forum – which represents non-profit providers, said there had been a “very strong push from the provider sector to enable as much visiting as possible as early as possible”.

But she said that “counter forces”, such as Government guidance and local public health decisions, had affected families’ access to their loved ones in care.

She told the Joint Committee on Human Rights: “What we found in the pandemic was the level of evidence that there was about the things that are important to people in the context of connection, loneliness, isolation, and how that might impact on people’s mental health, was strongly out of balance with the level of information that grew about the risks associated with Covid and infection, passing on infections.

“And what that meant was that all of the balance of risk looked at the risks of Covid, and there was nothing to counterbalance that, or nothing that the Government was able to hear, to counterbalance that in terms of the risks to people’s health in relation to isolation and loneliness.

“And I think we have to get so much better at being clearer.”

Ms Rayner said providers had “very strongly” been saying they could see the impact of separation, but that decisions “were being made that were counter to the individual risk assessments that providers were making about what was right for people”.

She said she shares the frustrations of organisations which are saying some people are still being denied the chance to be their loved one’s essential caregiver, and therefore be able to continue visiting even if there is an outbreak at the home.

Government guidance says every resident should be supported to have an identified essential care giver who can visit to offer companionship or help with care needs.

She said: “We are doing lots of work with individual providers where we can, to reinforce that the message very strongly from all of us as care providers or organizations is that that is the position, that is what people should be doing.”

She is aware of some local public health teams still preventing essential caregivers from visiting when there is an outbreak, she added.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the membership organisation the National Care Association, said Government guidance had posed a “enormous challenge” for providers.

She said some care providers who were concerned about opening up to visitors had concerns about staffing levels, the risk to visitors when there was Covid in the home, or had problems securing insurance.

She said: “We did everything possible and we made guidance understandable so that providers could be enabled to understand the guidance, and… sometimes it came out on a Friday night at eight o’clock and caused us great distress and would be implemented on the Monday.

“But that’s what we were trying to do …to try to make sure that it was the right that was being met, rather than not being met.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know how vital companionship is and the positive difference care home visits make for residents and their families.

“The success of the vaccine programme means there is now no limit to the number of visitors allowed in care homes and we expect this to be facilitated – ensuring residents get the support they need.

“During an outbreak it is necessary to maintain some restrictions but even during a Covid-19 outbreak we are clear that essential caregivers should still be given access.”

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