Care home residents allowed visitors for the first time since lockdown began, Matt Hancock confirms
Care homes will be allowed to welcome visitors for the first time since March (PA)
Matt Hancock has announced that care home residents will soon be allowed visitors for the first time since lockdown was introduced in March.
But he advised that social distancing and face coverings may still be required, and full risk assessments should be undertaken before care settings reopen.
The news was branded “disappointing” by industry body Care England, who questioned why the decision and guidance had taken so long.
Writing on Twitter, the Health Secretary said: “Thanks to the hard work to reduce the spread of #coronavirus we are able, carefully & safely, to ease restrictions on visitors to care homes.
“I know how important this is. My heart goes out to those who haven’t seen loved ones in care homes for months. I hope this step helps people come back together.”
New Government guidance was also published alongside Mr Hancock’s tweet, which set out how local authorities and public health directors can run the visiting arrangements.
It recommended that care homes visits should be “limited to a single constant visitor, per resident, wherever possible” and that staff should consider the “balance of the benefits to the residents, against the risk of visitors introducing infection into the care home” before reopening.
Health officials are also advised to take local testing data, results of staff testing and the readiness of the care home to respond to outbreaks when making its decision on which sites can allow visitors.
But, responding to the announcement, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “This guidance should have been with care providers last month.
“We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector."
Concerns were also raised about the scope of Government guidance, with Care England saying it did not address issues affecting supported living settings, volunteers, and low support staff ratios.
The social care body also said the advice failed to explain how risk assessments may affect the frequency of visits, or how limited information on local outbreaks was to be mitigated.
Prof Green added: “This guidance fails to consider the issues around visitors and residents leaving the care setting.
“As lockdown lifts we are likely to see many care providers and relatives wanting to take their loved one out for visits.
“Also, we need to look beyond outdoor visits and recognise that these new conditions may be with us for quite some time.
“The failure to acknowledge this nuance underscores the lack of governmental understanding of the complexities present within the adult social care sector”.
Elsewhere, the Alzheimer's Society said the advice was “well-considered”.
But it criticised a lack of central accountability for local decision-makers on reopening care homes.
Kate Lee, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “For someone with dementia in residential care, that care home is their home. And like all of us, they have a human right to see the people they love.
“This is well-considered guidance - it’s really good to see the Government acknowledge the importance of family carers, and we’re pleased they included and listened to people with dementia by involving us.
“However, it’s the job of local teams to make this happen - we’re very concerned that there’s no central accountability for local decision-makers, which may well mean that nothing will change.”
She also called for more testing for carers, adding: “Before lockdown, family carers were supporting their loved ones with dementia to eat and drink, brushing their teeth when no one else could, keeping them alive.
“They need the same regular, repeated testing a Key Worker would have, seen as equal partners in care, so they can be back at the side of their loved ones.”