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Visiting family members in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic

Visiting care homes during the pandemic

Of all the challenges facing people during the coronavirus pandemic, being able to visit family who live in care homes has been one of the most confusing and heart-breaking.

While we do hear reports of homes where visiting, at least in gardens, has been going ahead without problem, there are also many stories of families being forced to stay apart for months on end. And even when visiting is allowed, families have been asked to nominate just one person to be the regular visitor, leaving other family members unable to enter the premises at all.

Yet those who live independently are now able to go out and out about in the community, even if they had previously been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable and asked to stay at home.

The logic here is hard to follow. It seems that the problem has its roots in several causes.

On the one hand, the situation in care homes and how to protect residents has not been at the top of the priority list for those who are making the rules. Further evidence of that became clear when the UK government deferred a pledge to test every resident and worker in care homes, apparently admitting that it was too complicated. And this certainly hasn’t been helped by the recall of equipment that had been sent out because they were found to be faulty.

It is true that the Government has issued some guidance, but it has been difficult for care homes and local authorities to be sure they are acting on it as expected. The result is that different homes have different policies. Some are allowing socially distanced visits, while others are continuing to keep their residents in lockdown until they have received approval of their procedures from the local health authorities.

If you’re stuck in the situation of uncertainty and unable to visit your relatives, the following may give you a better picture of what’s happening, and some groups to join to press for better support in letting families meet up more regularly.

Advice given to care homes

The UK government regularly updates its guidance on admission and care of residents in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic in England. There is separate guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is advice for care homes, but is useful to know as it covers how to look after residents on admission, if they test positive for the virus, and how to care for people at end of life.

Visiting care homes is a guide for directors of public health, care providers and anyone involved in planning how to arrange for care home visits in England. It includes advice on risk assessment, creating policies, infection control precautions, and communicating with relatives about the policies.

The picture is more optimistic in Scotland, where care home visiting has been expanded in the last few weeks, enabling up to three outdoor visitors from two households, with infection control measures in place.

What the papers are reporting

When you feel you’re fighting a lonely battle, it can be useful to know what’s happening around the country. Here are a few news reports that could help.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has promised that every aspect of the Scottish Government’s response to Covid-19 will be scrutinised, including the revelation that at least 37 patients who tested positive were discharged from hospital into care homes. And in another example, two hospitals in Bristol discharged more than 180 patients into care homes without actually being tested. Indeed at one stage, the guidance from the UK government was that those being discharged from hospital should be tested, but the hospital didn’t need to wait for the results before sending them home.

A government review group has heard evidence about the distressing effects of keeping care homes on lockdown for months. Meeting at the end of July, the Select Committee strongly criticised the Government response, which it called “slow, inconsistent, and at times negligent approach”, especially the discharge of 25,000 patients from hospitals into care homes without ensuring all were first tested for COVID-19, and demanded a plan by the beginning of September.

What can you do?

This is a time when you can feel like you are fighting a lonely battle to get to see your family again, although it is important to note that this is not the same with all care homes.

Knowing that you are not alone and working with others to a good resolution can help.

  • There is a wonderful group called John’s Campaign, which has been fighting for the right for carers have the right to spend time with people with dementia. They are very active right now in gathering stories trying to get access to hospitals and care homes, and you can join them on Twitter or Facebook to support their efforts.
  • Join the Alzheimer’s Society’s campaign to influence Government action on supporting those with dementia through the crisis.
  • Read some useful advice on making the most of your visit to a care home.
  • Pick up useful ideas fromcare homes who are working hard to make visits happen safely.

And keep communicating with the care home wherever possible. The range of responses varies enormously. Some homes welcome phone calls and can give valuable updates and advice to families. Others are not so well organised, and aren’t proactive in offering updates, so patience here too is needed. Everyone is of course working in the unknown, under tremendous pressure, and there are currently no easy answers.


Photo by Mike from Pexels.

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