Visiting scheme allows families to help care for around 300 care home residents

A care home group has enabled almost 300 residents to be cared for by their family members through an enhanced visiting scheme that launched in August.

Sunrise Senior Living UK and Gracewell Healthcare care homes identified residents who were deteriorating and invited relatives to become part of their care plan, developing a “Safe Visits” protocol to enable meaningful contact.

Selected visitors are tested weekly, trained in using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and agree to a contract setting out what the care home expects of them, such as not exposing themselves to situations where they are at an increased risk of catching Covid-19.

They help care for residents most in need of extra support, such as those showing signs of significant cognitive decline, weight loss, decreased mobility or distressed behaviour and mood disturbance.

The scheme, running across its 46 homes, allows family members to be close to their loved ones – brushing their hair, holding their hands and helping them with daily activities.

The majority of the visits involve touch of some kind and only take place in homes which are Covid-free.

The group currently has 198 enhanced visiting plans in place, and more than 300 relatives have now visited their loved ones in a safe, controlled and managed way over the past two and a half months.

The daughter of one resident, who did not see her mother until July, said the enhanced visits have been “invaluable”.



It comes as a Government pilot started this week in around 20 care homes across Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon where relatives will be regularly tested.

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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”.



(Image: PA)

As well as the obvious comfort Sunrise and Gracewell’s scheme has brought to families, it has seen tangible clinical results – the daily fluid intake of one elderly resident doubled after his wife was permitted meaningful visits.

Without visitors, Doreen, a resident of Sunrise of Bassett care home in Southampton, became withdrawn and lacked motivation to walk, which she had always loved, and struggling with her balance.

At the beginning of the year she was able to walk for around 25 minutes with a stick, but when her daughter Sandy took her to a hospital appointment in August, her first time out of the home since the lockdown, she was “very unsteady” and could barely walk 100 yards even with the aid of a walker.

Sandy is now safely visiting her mother, 88, three times a week and helping her build up her walking.

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During a visit filmed from a safe distance by the PA news agency, the pair laughed and smiled as Sandy helped her mother walk around the care home grounds.

Holding her mother’s hand, Sandy said: “When someone you love reaches out to you and tries to ask you to help them because they might be feeling unhappy or sad or anxious or not feeling very well, to only have a telephone to talk to them, and to say: ‘No I can’t come out today, and I can’t come out tomorrow, and I can’t come out next week, in fact I don’t know when I can come out to see you’, is just heart-breaking.

“The feeling of helplessness I’ve had has been overwhelming. My mum’s always been there through my life to help me, and at the time I wanted to help her… It’s just been so hard.”

Anna Selby, who heads up Sunrise and Gracewell’s Covid-19 taskforce, said the Government’s approach has been “completely risk averse” and that, while recent guidance has brought some national clarity, there is much more to be done to combat the loneliness of vulnerable residents.

She said they have been effectively running a version of the scheme the Government has just started piloting, adding: “We’re being really careful, we are making sure it is used to address recognised need and vulnerability. And so far we haven’t seen any risk to our communities or any risk of infection as a result.”

Shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall said: “It is clear that safe visits can take place, and yet the Government have been far too slow to act.

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“Instead of waiting for the results of a pilot project, ministers must learn from what some care homes have already been doing and begin treating family members as key workers – making them a priority for weekly testing and proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), just as is supposed to happen for care home staff.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We understand the pain and very real consequences of loved ones being separated and we are doing everything we can to allow people to come together.

“We must also get the balance right between reuniting families and ensuring staff and residents of all ages in care homes are safe and well, while preventing the transmission of Covid-19.

“We know that some care homes have been taking innovative approaches to allow visits and we are now trialling testing of visitors to people in care to give families more opportunities to reunite and the pilot will provide us the best approach for a national rollout by Christmas.”