The Government’s new approach on visiting care home residents

The guidance for friends and family visiting loved ones in care homes was updated on 4 March 2021 to reflect the announcements in the new lockdown roadmap published on the 22 February 2021.  The full guidance can be found here.

Each care home will  allow its residents to name one person who can make a regular indoor visit, which as far as possible should remain the same person. The single named visitor will need to take a rapid (lateral flow) test and wear PPE every time they visit. This affords the individual a regular indoor visit, sitting in the same room as their loved one, with no screen between them. The government still strongly advises against physical contact and that close contact like hugging should be avoided.

In instances where residents need support that cannot be provided by care home staff, or not without causing distress the Government advises care homes should offer the ‘essential care giver’ scheme to allow those visitors to visit more often to provide essential care.

As part of the national lockdown from January 2021, family and friends had been restricted to visiting those in care homes to outdoors or with screens, or indoors only for residents at the end of life.  In early February this year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote on the impact of restricting visits to those in care homes, hospitals and prisons.  The Committee took into account witness evidence from those whose right to family life (Article 8) had been directly impacted by the long lockdown in those settings. Whilst many have used newer forms of communication, such as face to face video links, for some residents with dementia , remote video-conferencing, cannot provide the same experience .

 The new guidance goes someway to address criticisms, and abate these emotional hardships for residents, however,  there may be some instances where a care home cannot allow visits, for example , if they have a COVID outbreak. There has to be balance between the individual’s needs with needs of all the residents and staff , for  example, demands on space, staff or resources why a visit may not be able to go ahead as hoped by loved ones. In those instances care homes are asked to consider individual circumstances and carry out individualised, dynamic risk assessments to help them decide how to provide visiting opportunities for their residents.  The risk assessment should follow the CQC  regulatory framework around providing person centred care,  based on an assessment of  the potential risk of contracting  COVID-19 in relation to  each resident and weigh this up against the potential benefits to them. Any risk assessment should also consider the need to enable essential care giver visits.

It is too early to tell if  residents, family or friends  will seek to challenge these decisions  made by care home managers in the future, or if this will lead to an increase in the number of alerts to local Safeguarding,  but it is clear from the guidance that a robust risk assessment outlining the justification for any decisions made together with clear communication with families will  support residents to meet their loved ones in a controlled environment. In the long term, documenting any decisions made on the risk assessment may help to protect care homes from subsequent complaints and/or claims under Human Rights legislation. 

Written by Raveena Mehta

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