Care organisations give qualified welcome to visitor guidance

Care home organisations have given tentative backing to new government guidance that will allow residents one visitor from 8 March as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions.

The scheme will allow a single visitor to hold hands indoors with their relative or contact in a care home, and make repeat visits under “carefully designed conditions to keep residents, staff and visitors safe”, the Department of Health and Social said.

The named individual will be required to have a test beforehand, wear PPE during the visit and avoid close contact.

Close contact care will be restricted to visitors who provide assistance - such as help dressing, eating or washing. Existing guidance already enables these visits under exceptional circumstances.

All care home providers not experiencing an outbreak will be asked to follow the updated guidance.

The National Care Forum said it welcomed the new guidance but said it had only “incrementally moved forward” the opportunity for residents to reconnect with their loved ones

“It is hugely important that this next step recognises the role of essential caregivers and ensures that people living within care homes have regular, sustained and meaningful contact with one of the most important people in their lives,” said executive director Vic Rayner.

“We call on the government to work with the sector to ensure that homes have all the support and resource needed to make this a reality for the hundreds and thousands of people living within care,” she added.

Jonathan Cunningham, chairman of the UK Care Managers’ Inner Circle, said the measures do not go far enough and should include at least two relatives permitted to visit and should allow “hugging as well as hand holding”.

National Care Association executive chairwoman Nadra Ahmed meanwhile said the biggest issue for care homes would be having sufficient staff to manage testing and cleaning.

Under the guidance, all visitors will receive a lateral flow test and be required to follow all infection prevention and control measures.

"We have staff who are exhausted, we've got staff who are going down with Covid and also getting long Covid,” Ahmed told the BBC.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) added: “I know how important visiting a loved one is and I’m pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.

“This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step by step way in the future.”