The Daily Telegraph

Families forced to choose one visitor as care homes reopen

- By Laura Donnelly Health editor

‘It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months’

FAMILIES will be told to choose one member to visit elderly relatives in care homes, with “unbelievab­ly difficult” decisions facing those who have already endured four months apart.

New government guidance for the care sector – which also bans flowers and hugs – says homes can shortly start to allow visitors, after undergoing risk assessment­s of their safety protocols.

It recommends “limiting the numbers of visitors to a single constant visitor per resident, wherever possible”. It states: “This, for example, means the same family member visiting each time to limit the number of different individual­s coming into contact.”

Relatives will be told to wear face coverings and to follow advice on social distancing as much as possible, keeping at least one metre away, and avoiding handshakes, kisses or hugs.

Charities said families with parents and grandparen­ts in care homes now faced agonising decisions about which person would be allowed to visit.

But they said the situation must be navigated extremely carefully, with immediate lockdowns of homes in cases of local outbreaks.

Care homes will also be encouraged to offer “drive-through” visits, and meetings in communal gardens or through windows, to reduce the number of people entering the facilities.

Ministers said community transmissi­on of Covid-19 was now low enough that visits could be safely reintroduc­ed.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones.

“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.

“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited, so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone.”

Many care homes had already suspended visits, other than for end-of-life farewells, even before a national lockdown began on March 23.

The guidance says homes must draw up their own rules to deal with specific scenarios, with personal protective equipment required in some situations. Ultimately, decisions will be taken by care home owners, after undergoing risk assessment­s with local authoritie­s and public health directors.

Government sources said these should start immediatel­y, allowing some visits to go ahead within days.

Some residents – such as those with dementia – may be prioritise­d for visits. Care homes will be able to adapt the procedures if the restrictio­ns could be distressin­g for some residents, such as people with dementia, a learning disability or autism. Care home staff are

being urged to prepare residents and visitors, amid warnings that some residents may not recognise loved ones.

The guidance also advises that gifts should only be brought if they can be easily cleaned. “It is unlikely that they will be able to bring flowers, but a box of chocolates that could be sanitised with wipes would be allowed,” it states.

Visitors will be encouraged to walk or use their own transport. The guidance also instructs homes to carry out detailed risk assessment­s, tracking local rates of Covid-19. In the event of local outbreaks, visiting restrictio­ns should be introduced rapidly, it says.

Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These precaution­s are to protect the wellbeing of residents and staff by limiting visitors who could be asymptomat­ic.”

Some care homes in England have allowed socially distanced visits in outdoor areas since June.

Care England, the country’s largest representa­tive body for independen­t providers of adult social care, said it was “disappoint­ed” the government guidance had come so late.

Professor Martin Green, its chief executive, said the decision to recommend one visitor per resident would leave families in a “very difficult” situation. He said, ultimately, care homes would take their own decisions.

Some might allow one visitor for indoor visits, but other relatives could meet loved ones in gardens, he said.

Meanwhile, trials of Covid-19 tests which give results in less than an hour are due to begin in 50 care homes. The study, led by Queen Mary University of London, could allow homes to take swift action if an outbreak is detected.

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