As we entered the second national pandemic lockdown, I was delighted with the government’s about-turn to allow safe visiting in care homes.
It followed hard-hitting advice from an eminent group of infection prevention and control (IPC) specialists in an open letter, which I wrote about in my last piece. The IPC experts, many of them nurses, said ‘infection prevention and control should be an enabler not a barrier to safe, compassionate human interaction in nursing, care and residential homes’.
The group said stopping families visiting their loved ones in residential homes because of infection risks was ‘a misinterpretation and at times even abuse’ of infection control principles.
They wrote the letter to end the uncompassionate treatment caused by the ban on visits targeting government, health and care leaders and care home managers. It appears the Government took notice.
Unfortunately, the government guidance emphasised the use of social distancing, full-room height screens, window visits and visitor pods offering only visual or phone contact – which seems the government might have completely missed the point.
The IPC experts advised that with the correct PPE and good hand hygiene it was safe for families and relatives to be able to visit and touch their loved ones.
As care workers in appropriate PPE can touch residents, so family members should be able to, where appropriate IPC measures are followed. As the open letter said, IPC should never be at the expense of compassionate care: it is an enabler of safe entry.
But, at least, nurses now have an apportunity to embed some of the humanity expected of our profession, having previously been compromised by a government edict. As nurses, and not just those in social care, we will be at the forefront of interpreting and explaining IPC measures.
Nurses can now facilitate how families can reunite in the safest way possible, even if it is not as freely as they would like.
But certainly it was the bold action of our specialist IPC colleagues, with their open letter, at an appropriate and opportune moment, which struck a challenge for common sense. They contributed to a government review of residential care visits that stopped the first lockdown measures – the ban on visits – becoming routinised.
They stood up against blanket behaviours that, as a profession and a society we accepted, but which have destroyed our humanity.
Regrettably, it is too late for some families, burdened with the sadness of not being with their loved ones when most needed. However, as nurses, we can now blend safety and pragmatism with compassion in care homes.