The Government is conducting a care home visiting pilot and hopes that testing for visitors will be in place for all care homes in England “by Christmas”.
But it has been criticised as not good or quick enough, coming too late for people who have been cut off from their loved ones for more than eight months.
The Government’s recent care home visiting guidance, which permits visits under certain stringent circumstances, such as in rooms divided by floor to ceiling screens, has also been criticised.
Charities said it completely misses the point and families will be in despair, with screens hindering communication and outdoor visits over winter not being practical or appropriate, particularly with people with conditions such as dementia.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hopes to have testing for care home visitors in place for all care homes in England “by Christmas”.
But a guide has been put together of what can be allowed under lockdown:
Can I visit my relative?
The Government is permitting care home visits to continue through England’s four-week lockdown, albeit in stringent circumstances.
Regulations state that it is reasonably necessary for someone to leave their home to visit a person staying in a care home if they are a member of that person’s household, a close family member or a friend.
What does current guidance say?
It lists a number of ways care homes could allow visitors, including having designated visitor pods with floor-to-ceiling screens and separate entrances.
Outdoor visits with one other person are permitted, provided the area can be accessed by the loved one without going into the main building.
Visits at windows, “where the visitor doesn’t need to come inside the care home or where the visitor remains in their car, and the resident is socially distanced” are also allowed.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn throughout and social distancing adhered to.
In the event of a coronavirus outbreak, visits should be stopped, except for in exceptional circumstances such as imminent death.
Can I hold my grandmother’s hand, or give her a hug?
At this stage, the guidance says social distancing during visits must be maintained at all times.
Care minister Helen Whately said that she “absolutely” wants loved ones to be able to hold hands and hug, but that this is “strongly against” the clinical advice she has received.
What is happening in the Government’s visiting pilot?
Family and friends of people living in 20 care homes across Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall are getting access to regular testing to allow them to visit their loved ones.
The scheme, which started on Monday, will be assessed by experts and the aim is to roll it out to other regions before Christmas.
The tests – offered to one family member or friend for each resident – could put an end to “heartbreaking” restrictions on visits, when used in combination with other protective measures such as PPE.
How has the pilot been received?
People are thankful it is under way but frustrated that the Government has not acted sooner.
Shadow care minister Liz Kendall said the pilot was not good or quick enough, adding: “There simply isn’t enough time for many of those living in care homes to wait and watch for a pilot scheme or another set of guidelines, we need action now.”
And the Alzheimer’s Society said they fear it is “too little too late” for those who have been waiting eight months to see their loved ones.
What do people make of it?
The National Care Forum said the arrangements, without further support, “will leave many, literally, out in the cold”.
It is calling for money and resources so care homes can rapidly put measures in place to enable visiting over winter.
Charities said the guidance permits visits to go ahead under “prison-like” conditions and “completely misses the point” for residents such as those living with dementia.
Kate Lee, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said “distraught families will read this news and despair.”
Other care experts said the guidance was a relief but said its publication, less than 12 hours before the start of the lockdown, came late.