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Care homes are opening up to visitors

New guidance on care home visits

It’s been a very hard year for those with family and friends in care homes.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus amongst older and vulnerable residents has been met with stringent rules on visiting. For some, that has meant homes finding new ways to enable visits, from pods to window waving, which has been far from ideal. Video calls have helped to maintain contact for those able to understand the process. In the worst cases, families have not been able to see their relatives at all, as care homes have struggled to apply the government guidelines amidst fears of infection and criticism.

In recent weeks the situation has changed.

Visiting care homes in England

The UK government has amended its guidance for visiting care homes in England.

  • Every resident should now be able to nominate a singled named person who can become a regular visitor. They will be tested using lateral flow tests before each visit, will have to wear PPE and follow infection control measures. And they will be able to hold hands – but no hugging.
  • Those residents with the ‘highest care needs’ will also be able to nominate an ‘essential care giver’.
  • Care homes can continue to offer other visitors arrangements such as outdoor visiting, substantial screens, visiting pods or behind windows.

This is the first time that guidance has explicitly said that risks of Covid-19 should be balanced against the importance of visiting for residents and their families.

There is also new guidance to enable visitors to take residents out of care homes on visits. But this is only for residents of working age, as the guidance says the risks are too high for older residents at present.

Anecdotal evidence suggest that many care homes are now opening their doors again, albeit with strict rules about testing, touching and PPE in place. And some are truly bending over backwards to be helpful.

Visiting rights around the UK

Care home visits are also resuming in Scotland. Here residents can have up to two designated visitors each, and one visit a week for each visitor. Families in Wales should also by now have access for visiting.

Find out more:

Vaccinating staff

One of the challenges that still needs to be overcome is the issue of care home staff receiving vaccinations. It would seem that the reluctance to be vaccinated within the general population is alive and well in the care industry as well.

A paper leaked to the  media suggests that care home workers in England could be legally required to have a vaccination. It’s a controversial move, and if implemented could see more workers move out of a sector where there are already mounting vacancies. Some larger care home operators have reportedly implemented a ‘no jab, no job’ policy.

Supporting campaigns

If you are still having problems with visiting though, you may find it useful to visit the pages of John’s Campaign (which includes a Facebook page for Wales) and Rights for Residents, both of which have been campaigning to allow visitors back into care homes.

The Care Quality Commission, the independent body which oversees care homes in England, has also said it will be happy to hear from people who are having trouble visiting care homes, although the website is not absolutely clear about how to do this yet. Probably the best way until a direct email address is available is to Give Feedback on Care. This is a good step forward, as until recently the CQC has been seen as loathe to review care homes during the pandemic.

Visiting people with dementia

The Alzheimer’s Society has created a short guide offering advice to thosevisiting people with dementia. It points out that the person may not remember who you are, but that familiar aspects of your appearance may help. It may be an unsettling visit as their dementia may have got worse, or they may seem a bit low. The Society recommends explaining your absence, but then talking about more cheerful, earlier times. And speak clearly and loudly to get through the challenge of communicating while wearing a mask.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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