Care home residents in England should be allowed to receive visits from their family and friends in a COVID-secure way – with social distancing and PPE – during national restrictions in place from Thursday 5 November.
Guidance has been produced setting out clear principles for how visits are conducted – with arrangements to be adapted from home to home, according to residents’ needs and factors such as layout and facilities.
Options for safe care home visits in line with the guidance could include:
- Visiting areas/pods with floor to ceiling screens and windows where the visitor and resident enter through different entrances, are separated by screens and visitors do not need to enter or pass through the care home
- Visits at windows, or from a car window
- Outdoor visits with one other person, in areas which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building and;
- Further support for virtual visits, encouraging the use of video calls.
A new national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes, including community nurses and physiotherapists, will also be rolled out in the coming weeks following a successful pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.
There are also plans to allow specific family and friends to visit care homes supported by testing. A sector-led group is overseeing the development of these plans with trials set to begin later this month.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities. We’ve seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.”
However, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England calls for greater clarity around the DHSC’s new guidance on care home visiting: “There is a continued importance of balancing safety with wellbeing, and Care England awaits further details from the DHSC on its latest guidance for care homes for older people and those for younger adults. Care providers cannot prepare overnight, they need time, assurance and confidence in the guidance. Moreover any new protocol needs to include indemnity for care providers.
“We sent the Secretary of State some visiting principles last month and hope that they will be taken into account when the fuller guidance is issued. We anticipate that visiting will remain a prevalent topic at our conference next week; we have many unanswered questions. We are really upset that a proper policy has not been published in time when a second lockdown was always on the cards.”
The government is also working with providers to help them communicate to families and help them plan visits in a way that minimises the wider risks – for example, avoiding travelling to and from the home using public transport, or maintaining social distance from other families when they arrive at the home for their visit.
Visits outside of these principles should still be allowed in exceptional circumstances such as end of life.
Care homes should support the NHS Test and Trace system by keeping a temporary record, including address and phone number, of current and previous residents, staff and visitors as well as keeping track of visitor numbers and staff. It is recommended homes have an arrangement to enable bookings or appointments for visitors and ad hoc visits should not be permitted.