Advising with empathy and experience

Care home visits guidance 'impractical'.

Government guidance over safe visits to care homes in England "completely misses the point” care charities say

The Labour Party, and several charities, say that the suggestions, including floor-to-ceiling screens, designated visitor pods and window visits, are impractical.

The updated government advice  says care homes - especially those that have not allowed visits since March - "will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities."

According to the advice, visits should be "tailored to residents and facilities and should prioritise resident and staff safety" to limit spread of coronavirus with measures such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Care minister, Helen Whately, said the new measures would give people more opportunities to see loved ones "in a safe way."

However, Julia Jones, co-founder of dementia charity, John's Campaign, said that visits should be more "meaningful" than meeting through a window.

She said: "When people are in the later stages of dementia, when people love each other, when people are approaching the end of their lives, they need to hold hands."

Chief executive of leading care home group MHA, Sam Monaghan, said the best way to carry out Covid-secure visits in care homes was "through routine testing of at least one relative for each resident.”

The guidance also suggests that visitors and residents use different entrances, meet in Covid-secure areas, or pods, separated by floor-to-ceiling screens, and visitors should not enter or pass through the care home.

Other guidance includes: window visits, where visitors don't need to come inside the care home, or even remain in their car, and the resident is socially distanced; outdoor visits, with one other person, in areas which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building and virtual visits with care homes encouraging the use of video calls.

All face-to-face visits were banned during the first national lockdown in the spring.

Recent guidance in England has allowed visits on a "limited basis" where alternative arrangements were not possible but these have been severely curtailed, or prohibited, in areas subject to enhanced restrictions applied to large parts of England.

Helen Whately said she knew the visiting restrictions had been "incredibly painful" and she had been "in tears" with some of the stories she had heard.

She said the government was "absolutely trying to enable more visiting" but, against the backdrop of the second wave of the pandemic it was "only right that we make sure visiting care homes is safe.”

Labour's shadow care minister, Liz Kendall, said many care homes would not be able to comply with the government's requirements which meant "in reality thousands of families are likely to be banned from visiting their loved ones".

She said, instead of suggesting measures such as screens, the government should "designate a single family member as a key worker, making them a priority for weekly testing and proper PPE."

Alzheimer's Society chief executive, Kate Lee, said: "We're devastated by the new care home visitor guidance. It completely misses the point: this attempt to protect people will kill them."

She said the pandemic had left people with dementia isolated and thousands had died. She said the guidelines "completely ignore the vital role of family carers in providing care for their loved ones with dementia that no one else can."

She said the "prison-style screens" proposed by the government, with people speaking through phones, were "frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak.”

Charity director at Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said she was "acutely aware" that guidance was "unlikely to be useable by many older people with dementia, or sensory loss.”

She added: "Overall we think this new guidance is too restrictive. In practice we fear it will result in many care homes halting meaningful visiting altogether, because they will be unable to comply with the requirements."