Restart essential care home visits in England, relatives demand

Campaigners urge government to allow visits, saying it is a matter of ‘fundamental human rights’

Relatives of people isolated in care homes are demanding a restart to essential visiting by 1 March declaring it “a matter of safety, common decency, and fundamental human rights”.

But care operators and the government believe it may be too soon, with the risk of infection still high and second vaccination doses yet to be administered to many vulnerable elderly people.

The campaign and support groups Rights for Residents, the Relatives and Residents Association and John’s Campaign will urge ministers on Tuesday to allow residents to select an essential caregiver to make in-person visits indoors and without screens within weeks. They cited falling rates of Covid transmission in the community and the need to balance the risk from the virus with the risk of isolation and lack of connection.

But it is likely to be resisted by many care operators, which fear the infection risk from new virus variants. They also say many cannot get insurance cover for Covid risks, including infection being introduced by visitors.

Helen Whately, the care minister, has said she is determined that normal visiting should restart “as soon as it is safe”, but added last week: “Most care residents must have their second dose [of the vaccine].” That is not likely to happen until later in spring at the earliest.

The call for a new visiting system to be introduced within three weeks is backed by Age UK, the National Care Forum and the Registered Nursing Home Association. “If we delay any longer, many residents will have waited more than a year to see and touch their loved ones,” they said. “This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.”

The coalition argues the issue must be decoupled from the vaccine programme, especially as timings for the administering of second doses are not yet clear. It believes testing and careful use of infection control techniques should be used instead to mitigate risk.

Brendan Black, who has been divided from his wife of 64 years for most of the last year, said he was only allowed window visits at her care home. He holds up notes to Joan’s window asking how she is, telling her he loves her and that he will be allowed in again soon, said the Relatives and Residents Association, which has been assisting him.

“This is what we are reduced to,” he said. “The past year has been hell. Something must be in place in care homes to let us see our loved ones. I don’t care about anything else, only being with Joan. I love her, like I loved her 65 years ago. She still knows I’m her husband.”

“The absence of meaningful indoor visiting fails to recognise the fundamental role that relationships and love play in a resident’s wellbeing,” the coalition said. “We are calling on care providers, relatives and friends, local and national government and the regulator to work together to make this a reality. Despite our different roles we all want the same thing. We want mother and daughter, father and son, lifetime partners, close friends and neighbours to be confident that within weeks they can be reunited and be made whole again.”

Government guidance states that “visiting should be supported and enabled wherever it is possible to do so safely … This means finding the right balance between the benefits of visiting on wellbeing and quality of life, and the risk of transmission of Covid-19 to social care staff and clinically vulnerable residents.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “While the vaccines provide protection from serious disease, we do not yet know if they prevent someone from passing on the virus to others. This means it is still important to follow the visiting guidance. We will do everything possible to make close contact visits possible the moment it is safe to do so.”

Contributor

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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