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Many families still experiencing barriers to care home visits, campaigners warn

A care home resident holding hands with her daughter (Andrew Matthews/PA)
A care home resident holding hands with her daughter (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Too many” care home residents are facing serious challenges in getting vital support from their loved ones during coronavirus outbreaks, with families still experiencing barriers to visits, campaigners have said.

A coalition of organisations has written to local health and care leaders calling on them to end harmful isolation practices in care settings.

It follows a letter sent at the start of the year, which urged local leaders to ensure that restrictions on contact are proportionate.

The groups, which include the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) and Rights for Residents, expressed “sadness and disappointment” that they are needing to write again.

They say some residents are facing “serious challenges” in accessing support from relatives when their home is in a coronavirus outbreak.

Local health teams are imposing restrictions beyond those set out in Government guidance, they say.

Current guidance says there “should not normally be any restrictions to visits into or out of the care home”.

It says residents can have one visitor during an outbreak, and that this visitor does not need to be the same person throughout the outbreak.

But the groups say, despite the changes to the guidance, many relatives still report being denied access to their loved ones during outbreaks, calling this “of huge concern”.

And many care settings are informing relatives that the additional restrictions are coming from their local health protection teams, they say.

They are calling for local teams to ensure their advice to care homes reflects the Government guidance so that the “one at a time” visitor rule during outbreaks is followed “as an absolute minimum”.

They are also warning of “significant safeguarding risks” that can arise if friends and family are not able to see their loved ones, particularly given the ongoing social care staff shortages.

Helen Wildbore, director of the R&RA, said too many people are still facing restrictions, “all in the name of ‘protection’ and ‘public health’.”

She said: “Two and half years on and we still haven’t learnt the most basic lesson from this pandemic: without the support of loved ones, people’s mental and physical health suffers greatly.

“Undervaluing this support is dehumanising not only for the person living in care, but also for their friends and relatives.

“Older people are still paying a heavy price for the failings in the early stages of the pandemic as risk-averse approaches have become deeply embedded.

“Public health teams must urgently step back to see the bigger picture of this public health crisis and comply with their legal duties to protect wider health and wellbeing.”

Jenny Morrison, co-founder of Rights for Residents, said: “In the midst of an outbreak, when many are confined to their own small rooms, it’s vital that our loved ones feel the reassurance, love and support from their closest family members and friends.

“Limiting their contact to just one constant family member contravenes government advice and denies vulnerable residents the same rights as those in the wider society.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Visitors can provide a lifeline for patients in hospital and residents in care homes – we must never underestimate the impact of spending time with a loved one or having a conversation with a friend.

“Those in hospital and care homes should not be deprived of the comfort of regular visits and even during a covid outbreak we are clear that one visitor should still be given access. We will continue to monitor data and feedback on visiting and keep guidance and additional options under review to ensure that visiting is facilitated in care homes.”