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02/11/2020   National lockdown must not include locking out care home visitors

We support the National Care Forum’s open letter to the Department of Health and Social Care, Secretary of State Priti Patel and Minster for Care Helen Whately, which explains why a blanket ban on care home visitors is not the right course of action during the second lockdown.

Read the full letter below.


Visiting in Care Homes: A joint call to action – open letter to Secretary of State, Minister for Care and DHSC officials.

1st November 2020.

As the government finalises regulations for national lockdown, we call on it to embed within those regulations the default position that care homes are open for visiting. Care homes must be supported to enable visits by families and loved ones, now and in the future.

We can no longer stand by and watch the erosion of people’s human rights and the impact of isolation through the effective blanket bans on visiting in care homes.

We know that isolation caused by restrictions on visits from loved ones is intrinsically harmful and we have heard over and again the extreme anguish that this is causing.

Locking down care homes in March was an emergency response to the global pandemic caused by a virus about which little was known. Eight months on, we better understand the risks of transmission and can put in place measures that will keep us safer – this is as important for care homes as the rest of our society.

People in care homes and their loved ones in the community have fundamental human rights, both as individuals and as a community, and a ban on visiting denies those rights.

Visitors are more than people who make mere social calls into a care home – often they are spouses, children or long-held friends, who play a fundamental role in the everyday care of residents

In particular, for older people, remember that the average length of stay in a care home is 2 years. After 8 months of visitor restrictions – we cannot continue like this – there is simply not enough time for many of those living in care homes today to watch and wait.

We understand why policymakers worry about the risk of COVID-19 in care homes, given the catastrophic suffering and loss of life earlier in the pandemic. But there is no evidence that a blanket ban on visiting, or near ban, is the right response. It is also the case that homes are much better equipped now to manage any risk. There is much greater knowledge of transmission and infection prevention and control practices than there was in March. Homes should be fully supported to enable visiting.

The government has announced a pilot around testing visitors. However, those living in homes need visits now. The current tiered approach has already placed 50% of care homes and their residents under a default of blanket visiting restrictions. This cannot remain the accepted position.

So – what do we need to happen now to reset the dial to enable visiting to become the default position at this difficult time?

  • Government to fully support testing of visitors to help the management of the virus
  • Enable designation of one person, as a minimum, per resident as a ‘key visitor’ who is eligible for regular testing, PPE and training alongside the care home staff, so they can visit frequently and for longer
  •  Enable every care home to manage visiting in the individual way that works best for them, their environment, residents and their workforce and empower providers to work this out by talking with all their residents, their loved ones and staff
  • Support all care homes to create safe COVID-19 visiting spaces to use to facilitate safe visits
  • Work together across the entire health and care sector to support care home visiting, including CQC, local authorities and DPHs, and health and care staff too
  •  Government to provide indemnification or unblock restrictive insurance policies creating barriers to visiting
  • We are living in a COVID-19 world and we must have a paradigm shift in our thinking now. The decisions taken now about visiting are life-changing, and potentially life-limiting for some. We MUST act now together to support people in care homes to live the best possible life with regular and meaningful visiting by their loved ones. By the end of November 2020, all of the above must be in place.

This statement has been signed by a coalition of over 60 organisations, researchers, professionals and allies representing relatives, carers and providers, brought together by the National Care Forum.