The Government has published guidance to confirm care homes can allow visitors – but the change has been criticised for being long overdue.
Although, not all care homes will be expected to open their doors. Local directors of public health and care providers will lead risk assessments in their respective local authority areas to decide whether it is safe for homes to open their doors to visitors.
Only a single constant visitor should be allowed per resident – for example, one family member who can make repeat visits – in order to lower the risk of infection, the guidance stated.
The Care Providers Alliance chair Lisa Lenton said they had been calling for this ‘overdue’ change for ‘many weeks’.
She continued: ‘The effect of not being able to see friends and family has been very difficult and very upsetting for many – both for the people who access care and support, and for their loved ones who have been isolated.’
Care England chief executive Professor Martin Green agreed that the change should have been made ‘last month’.
He said: ‘We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector.’
Professor Green also raised concerns that the guidance failed to give advice on taking residents out for day trips.
He added: ‘Also, we need to look beyond outdoor visits and recognise that these new conditions may be with us for quite some time.
‘The failure to acknowledge this nuance underscores the lack of governmental understanding of the complexities present within the adult social care sector.’
The directors of public health have been told to take into account Covid-19 infection rates in their area and care homes, the practicality of mitigating risk in a particular care home setting, and other factors.
This includes considering whether visits can take place in a communal garden or outdoor area or through a window, or as a drive-through visit.
If there is an outbreak, care homes should rapidly impose visiting restrictions again, the guidance said.
Visitors should also wear a face covering, wash their hands and wear appropriate further personal protective equipment if necessary, the guidance added.
Care homes will also be told to keep records of visitors to support the NHS Test and Trace service in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Visits should also be booked in via an appointment system, rather than on an ad hoc basis.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.
‘We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.’
In April, the Department for Health and Social Care published guidance saying visits should not be made to care homes residents, except in exceptional circumstances such as for end of life.
The social care staff death rate from Covid-19 is also twice that of the general population, according to Office for National Statistics data up until 20 April.