Care homes face being ‘vilified’ if patients given visitor rights

The head of a care association has branded it “really disappointing” that care homes face being “vilified” after a report they could be forced to allow visitors under new Government plans.

Care minister Helen Whately told The Times she is “determined to fix” the issue around visiting, amid reports some residents are still being denied quality time in-person with loved ones as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

The newspaper reported that options to address problems could include introducing legislation giving residents or patients a right to receive visitors or legislation telling the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, to inspect visiting policies when rating care homes or hospitals.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not confirm any legislation was being considered, but said it was urging all trusts and care homes to “follow the guidance” and ensure they are facilitating visits.

A spokesman for the department said: “Our guidance clearly states that residents in care homes should be able to have at least one visitor in all situations.

“We will continue to work with health protection teams to ensure the advice they are giving to care homes is proportionate and reflects Government guidance.

“We urge all trusts and care homes to follow the guidance and ensure they are facilitating these visits, which play a crucial role in the wellbeing and care of patients and residents.

“The Care Quality Commission is able to take regulatory action where there are concerns that safe and proportionate visiting is not being facilitated.”

Referring to her personal experience, Ms Whately told The Times: “No one can be in any doubt now how much visits matter.

“The darkest days of the pandemic are thankfully behind us but I’m still hearing from families (who are) being stopped from visiting loved ones.

“I know how it feels. I didn’t know if I would see my mum alive again when she was very ill in hospital in the summer.

“I remember well the feelings I had at the time: grief mixed with frustration and even anger at a system that seemed to lack humanity.”

But the chairwoman of the National Care Association said it was “really disappointing” to think more legislation could be introduced when the care home sector is “trying our very best”.

Nadra Ahmed called for the Government instead to fund the sector properly, highlighting the ongoing issue of staff shortages.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s really disappointing that we’re looking at another piece of legislation in relation to the care home sector.

“And I think it will be really important for people to understand that we’re probably one of the most legislated against parts of the sector.

“I would always start from the point that the wellbeing of every individual in our care service that we support is enhanced by a visit, and pre-Covid that is what happened. We had open visiting. This is a consequence of Covid that we have to go with the guidance that we do.”

Pointing to staff shortages, she insisted: “We’re trying to do the very, very best that we can, and to be vilified in this way when we’re trying our very best… the Government needs to be concentrating… on funding the sector properly so that we can do everything we possibly can.”

The care home sector was badly hit in the pandemic, with one of the major criticisms levelled at the Government being the discharging of elderly people from hospitals to care homes, spreading the virus and claiming countless lives.

Campaigner Nicci Gerrard argued Covid-19 had shown why people should have a legal right to see their loved ones in their time of greatest need.

The co-founder of the charity John’s Campaign said those with special needs such as dementia should have the right to have their essential caregiver “wherever they go”.

She told the Today programme: “There are lots of complicated things around the edges, but at the centre there’s this clear message that people should not be separated from those that they love during times of their greatest need.

“And Covid has shown why that needs to be enshrined in law. It’s very easy to sweep away these human rights.”

It is understood DHSC is keeping guidance on visiting in care homes under constant review.