Care homes need to be open to ‘safe visits’ in lockdown, PM told

Care homes need to be open to “safe visits” from loved ones, Boris Johnson has been warned.

As England approaches its second lockdown concerns have been raised about the emotional damage to residents and their family members.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Prime Minister there is “increasing concern” about the mental health cost to both those in care homes and their relatives if facilities are effectively shut off to visitors during the second wave of coronavirus.

The Unison union, which represents care home workers, also flagged the need for safe visits amid wider safety concerns.

It came as Government regulations on leaving the home, which are due to come into force on Thursday, stated that close family and friends of care home residents will be allowed to continue visiting as part of an exemption deeming them “essential” for mental health reasons.

Addressing Mr Johnson during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said: “As we face the second wave, there is an increasing concern about the emotional wellbeing of those in care homes, and their families, if all visits are stopped.

“It must be possible to find a way … to allow some safe visits, to alleviate the huge fears of isolation and despair across the coming months.

“Will the Prime Minister work cross-party to find a scheme that will work for those in care and their families?”

Mr Johnson said new guidance specific to care home visits would be published later, stating they would “try to strike the balance between people’s real need to see their loved ones and obviously the risk of spreading the disease in care homes”.

Mark Adams, chief executive of social care charity Community Integrated Care, said people supported in care services have been “tragically deprived of access to face-to-face contact with their loved ones for too long”, and said he hopes improvements to the testing programme will be “the game-changer we need”.

He said: “As winter sets in, the creative ways that the care sector has supported safe visiting outdoors are becoming untenable.

“Whilst care homes simply cannot be as accessible as they were before the pandemic, there are some solutions.

“We want individuals to be enabled to have a named visitor, who receives fast-turnaround testing before their visit.

“With support to provide effective PPE (personal protective equipment) and decontamination processes, safe visiting areas, and a sensible expectation for how many visits a care home can facilitate in such a complex and high-risk environment, we can at least offer families some comfort.”


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Figures released last month by the Data Analysis Bureau suggested at least one third of care home residents in England have not been given a coronavirus test within the last month – despite a Government pledge for regular testing across the sector.

The Prime Minister’s comments came after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested using the new rapid-turnaround tests to allow people who have family members with dementia in care homes to visit them.

A mass-testing pilot in Liverpool will be launched on Friday, meaning anyone living or working in the city can be tested regularly, even if they have no symptoms, and results provided without the need for a lab.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt said: “I think this (quick-turnaround tests) is something the Government has looked at, but if we are at the point where we can offer these tests to a whole city (Liverpool), then surely we can find a way of offering them to people who have loved ones with dementia in care homes.”

Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Controlling the virus and protecting the vulnerable must be the priority. But the chance to see loved ones would make a world of difference for elderly residents if it can be done safely.

“The Government’s had months to sort Test and Trace problems.

“If life is ever to return to normal, an effective, regular testing system for care staff and visitors is vital.”

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