Care minister declines to say if Government will bring in care home visits law

The care minister has declined to say whether the Government will follow Scotland’s lead in bringing in legislation enshrining the right of care home residents to receive visitors.

Gillian Keegan (pictured) told MPs and peers the Government is looking at whether introducing a new law “would make sense” or “be something that could be achieved”.

She said existing guidance covering England, which is not mandatory, is “very clear” that care settings should not restrict visitors and legislation would have a “very similar effect”.

When she started looking into concerns she believed it was a “very widespread problem”, but a central tool where providers can input data in real-time suggested that 80% of providers were enabling visiting.

Campaigners and MPs have been calling for a new legal right which would enable people in health and care settings to maintain contact with at least one loved one providing essential support.

This would give people the right to unrestricted contact with a “care supporter” in a bid to make sure the isolation experienced by some in care during the coronavirus pandemic is “never again” felt.

A similar law is being prepared for introduction by the Scottish Government, it emerged earlier this year.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry told the Joint Committee on Human Rights: “We’ve heard really, as our chair said, really distressing evidence, and we’ve all got examples from friends or, those of us who are members of parliament, constituents who’ve really suffered greatly during the pandemic.

“Why not just go ahead and put this on a statutory footing? What’s stopping you?”

Ms Keegan replied that there is “nothing stopping it particularly” but that there is an “awful lot of legislation” and reform taking place across the sector.

She said: “I wouldn’t want the committee to think that we sat here, or I’m sat here, saying, ‘Oh, this is something that we don’t think is a good idea. We’d never do it and we’d never consider it’.

“It’s not that, it’s just there’s a lot of things that we’re considering and it is kept under review, and as soon as I do have any further updates I’d be very delighted to give them back to the committee.”

The care minister was questioned during the fifth and final evidence session held as part of the committee’s inquiry into the human rights of people in care.

The committee also heard that just seven out of 2,280 complaints under the mental health act were investigated by the care regulator last year.

The figures were first published in a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in January.

Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman asked for further detail about this.

She said either people are complaining “to the wrong place about the wrong thing”, which suggests the complaints system is confusing, or the complaints are “justified” but hardly any are being looked into.

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