Care homes could reopen to visitors ‘in next few days’ as Matt Hancock hints at payrise for workforce
Care homes have been particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. (PA)
The Government wants to let people visit their loved ones in care homes again in the “next few days”, the Health Secretary has announced.
Matt Hancock said there would be “more details soon” on plans to let people make “Covid Secure” care home visits, which have been banned for months under the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
And the Cabinet minister dropped a clear hint that he wants to see a payrise for the the UK’s care workers, amid a row between the sector and Boris Johnson.
Care homes have been particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the almost 30,000 more residents in England and Wales dying between March and June this year than in the same period in 2019.
Speaking to ITV News on Thursday, Mr Hancock said: “We’ve been very very careful to ensure that visitors don’t bring coronavirus back into a care home.
"But in the next few days we will be setting out how covid secure visiting can happen in care homes, how we can have more visits of loved ones in a way that is very careful and in a way that keeps care homes safe.”
He added: “There’ll be more details soon but I think that people are yearning to see their loved ones and the residents of care homes get so much from visitors.
“It’s been a very, very long period and that period where there hasn’t been any visiting to care homes, that’s coming to an end very soon.”
Asked whether people would be able to see their relatives next week, Mr Hancock said: “I very much hope that in the next few days we’ll be able to make this change.
“I hope you understand we’ve been very careful about it and we’ve got to get it right.
“We’ve got to make sure it works for each local area but I hope we can make that change very soon.”
Welcoming the move, Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall said: “It is good to hear families will soon be able to visit care homes again. This is something Labour has been calling for weeks.
“It has been a very worrying time for people with loved ones in care homes and so it is vital that care homes get clear guidance, PPE and access to regular testing to ensure visits are safe.”
But, pointing to the continued lockdown in the city of Leicester following a spike in coronavirus cases there, Ms Kendall said: “Families in Leicester will be upset and disappointed that this doesn’t apply to them, which is why we must ensure Leicester gets resources, data and other support needed to bring infection rates down.”
'WE VALUE THEIR WORK'
Elsewhere in his ITV news interview, Mr Hancock sought to dampen down a row between care providers and Number 10 after the Prime Minister claimed that “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have“.
Charity Community Integrated Care branded the PM’s comments “clumsy and cowardly”, the National Care Association asked Mr Johnson to retract the statement, while the Independent Care Group called the comments a “slap in the face for those workers after they have given and sacrificed so much”.
Labour has meanwhile demanded an apology from the PM, who has said he was referring to a lack of knowledge about asymptomatic transmission of the virus in care settings.
But, confronted by ITV News with criticism from carer Debbie Adams, Mr Hancock said: “What I can do is I can tell Debbie and all those who work in care homes that the point that we were trying to make and I can also say how much we value their work and everything they’ve done to keep people safe.
“People in social care have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep people safe and to do that infection control, which is at the root of protecting people, which is why care homes in this country have done better than anywhere else in Europe.”
'INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT JOB'
The Health Secretary also hinted that he would push for a payrise for workers in the social care sector, many of whom are employed on the minimum wage in a sector which makes extensive use of zero-hour contracts.
“I think that social care in an incredibly important job …I can’t make a financial announcement now but I think you can see where my heart lies,” he said.
Asked whether care workers deserve a pay rise, the Health Secretary said: “It’s a very important and valued job and I’m really proud of the increase in the living wage that we’ve introduced. That has had more of an impact on the care sector than any other sector and I want to see that go further.”