On 16 November 2020, the Government launched a pilot to use mass testing to facilitate care home visits for families.
This is because thee Government and I know how difficult it has been for families and friends who haven’t been able to see their loved ones during the pandemic. I also know that the Government’s aim throughout this pandemic has been to keep people in care homes safe and well. There is of course a difficult balance to strike.
That is why we have started to trial visitor testing in 20 care homes across the country, which will allow each resident to have one relative or friend who can be their ‘key visitor’, who will take a coronavirus test, and then be able to come for an indoor visit without a screen.
I am encouraged to learn that, if these pilots are successful, care home testing will be rolled out in a phased way across the country in December.
The Government's priority is protecting care home staff and residents, but we know how important it is to let residents safely meet loved ones.
We are doing this by:
- Trialling regular testing for families or friends of those living in care homes – in the hope of letting people spend time safely with their loved ones in care. The pilot is taking place in around 20 care homes, and involves one family member or friend per resident receiving regular testing, either at home or via the new 30- minute lateral flow tests. If people test negative, they will be able to have an indoor visit with their loved one. If successful, care home testing will be rolled out across the country.
- Publishing new guidance to help care home providers safely facilitate visits. The guidance is intended to enable and encourage providers – supported by local professionals, families and the wider community – to provide appropriate visiting opportunities that balance these important benefits against the continued priority of preventing infections to protect staff and residents.
- Providing more than £1.1 billion to help keep the virus under control in care homes, protecting our brilliant care workers and some of the most vulnerable people in society. In September, we announced an additional £546 million for the Infection Control Fund, which will allow us to extend it to March 2021, and brings the total funding for infection control measures in care homes to over £1.1 billion. The funding can be used to help care providers pay full staff wages when they are self-isolating, and enable staff to work in only one care home, reducing the risk of spreading the infection.
What is the guidance on care home visits?
Current guidance for care home visits during this period of tougher national restrictions can be found here.
On the topic of care home visits, Age UK have set up a webpage which provides the latest information and advice on caring for someone you don’t live with, including visiting loved ones in care homes. It also provides information on delivering care for someone in their home.
There are two things to note about care home visits:
- A care home should communicate its visiting policy clearly with residents and families so that you know how they are following the guidance.
- If a care home has an outbreak of coronavirus then it is likely that they will implement a no visitor policy. However, when this happens, care homes should ensure there are alternative ways of communicating between residents and families and provide regular updates to residents loved ones of their mental and physical health
Importantly the guidance allows for exceptional circumstances to ensure that residents who are at the end of life should continue to receive visits from their loved ones in all circumstances.
Age UK wants safe care home visits to go ahead and they are working hard with DHSC and the care sector on efforts to balance the risks from Covid-19, but also taking into account those risks to physical and mental health created by preventing visits, namely loneliness, lack of stimulation and connection with loved ones. You can read more about their work and policy calls on care home visits here.
Age UK have set up a silver line number to enable individuals to have someone to call day or night for a friendly chat: 0800 470 8090.
Age UK's national adviceline (free, confidential and open 8am - 7pm 365 days a year) is available on 0800 678 1602.
How has the guidance changed since the announcement of Tier 4?
Visits to care homes in Tier Four areas can take place provided the care home does not currently have an outbreak and the management are content that they have been able to comply with the guidance on safe visiting in care homes. This included arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows.
In some areas care homes will be able to offer rapid covid-19 tests to facilitate visiting. Although these can be helpful, they cannot be relied on and the other precautions to reduce the spread of the virus as still needed.
It will be possible in many cases to arrange some sort of visiting but sadly the type of free visiting that was possible in previous years is not currently possible.
In Tier Three (or below) areas, there are no changes to the previous arrangements.
How has the guidance changed since the announcement of further restrictions?
Visits to care homes can take place with arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows. Close-contact indoor visits are not allowed. No visits will be permitted in the event of an outbreak.
You should check the guidance on visiting care homes during COVID-19 to find out how visits should be conducted. Residents cannot meet people indoors on a visit out (for example, to visit their relatives in the family home). There is separate guidance for those in supported living.
What did the Prime Minister say in his Covid-19 Winter Plan about care homes?
During the Prime Minister's announcement to the House on Monday 23rd November, Mr Johnson said the following in regards to care homes:
We are beginning to deploy [lateral flow] tests in our NHS and in care homes in England, so people will once again be able to hug and hold hands with loved ones, instead of waving at them through a window.
By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.
Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today." - Boris Johnson MP