Care home residents will be able to leave their home for “low risk” visits without having to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, the Government has said after being threatened with legal action.
From Tuesday, residents leaving their home for a walk or to visit a loved one’s garden will no longer have to isolate for two weeks on their return.
But those leaving for medical appointments and for overnight visits will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days, the PA news agency understands.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) removed the requirement for outdoor, “low risk” visits after being threatened with legal action by the charity John’s Campaign.
Campaigners said the rule encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents, with family members calling it “barbaric”.
Under the changes, residents on visits out must be accompanied by either a member of staff or one of their two nominated visitors, and follow social distancing throughout.
They cannot meet in groups or go indoors – except for the use of toilets – and public transport should be avoided where possible.
It is understood a resident would be able to eat outside at a restaurant or cafe with their care worker or nominated visitor if they agree this with the care home in advance.
Residents will also be able to vote in person in the upcoming local elections without having to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards.
The DHSC is expected to review the self-isolation requirement for more visits when it reaches the next stage of the Government’s road map on May 17.
It comes as new data shows that 95% of elderly residents have received one vaccine dose and 71% have received two.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We know how challenging this time has been for care home residents, so I am pleased that they can now leave their homes to reunite with their loved ones outdoors.
“With the data continuing to head in the right direction and as restrictions ease, it is my priority to keep increasing visits for residents in the coming weeks in a safe and controlled way.”
Care Minister Helen Whately added: “I know residents and their families have found the restrictions on trips out of care homes incredibly difficult.
“This is one more step towards getting back to normal, while protecting care homes from the continued risk of Covid-19.
“As part of this interim update before the next stage of the road map, care home residents will also be able to leave to spend time outdoors.
“I know this has been long-awaited for those who haven’t had a chance to enjoy trips out. I look forward to encouraging more visiting and trips out in future as we turn the tide on this cruel virus.”
The DHSC said updated guidance will be published in due course.
John’s Campaign co-founder Nicci Gerrard called the news a “chink of light for residents of care homes and their families”, adding: “But why did this rule ever exist in the first place – depriving people of their liberty, turning care homes into prison, treating one group of people with such cruelty?”
The charity’s fellow co-founder Julia Jones said: ““It should never have been considered permissible to confine adult members of society, without their consent (or those who speak for them) merely because their address happens to be that of a care home.”
Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory, who is representing John’s Campaign, said: “It appears under the threat of legal proceedings, which the John’s Campaign were due to issue next week, the Government have finally agreed to drop the blanket requirement that care home residents self-isolate for 14 days following any visit out.
“This will be a huge relief to residents, families and care homes who have all been crying out for change.
“This is good news but as always the devil will be in the detail and John’s Campaign will be scrutinising the new guidance once it is published to ensure that it is lawful and fit for purpose.”