Care homes have been warned not to impose blanketing visiting restrictions over Christmas, after campaign groups raised the alarm over some homes pausing or limiting visits.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said it is important for residents and their loved ones to be able to spend time together during the festive period.
It said it has received reports that some care homes have been issuing “general policy” related to visiting, and that it has acted on 54 concerns about potential blanket bans.
The care regulator said it will continue to monitor the situation and support care homes to implement Government guidance.
The Relatives & Residents Association, which supports people in care and their families, said it is “astonishing and simply unacceptable that the regulator has not taken a proactive role”.
Kate Terroni, CQC chief inspector of adult social care, said: “The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on many people and we know it has been particularly difficult for those who are living in care homes and their families and loved ones.
“It is important that people are able to spend time with their loved ones over the festive season, including Christmas Day and New Year.”
She added that the regulator has made it “absolutely clear to providers that blanket approaches to visiting are unacceptable and may trigger an inspection”.
Government guidance, updated last week in light of the spread of Omicron, limits the number of visitors who can visit regularly to three plus an essential caregiver.
It says it expects and encourages providers to “facilitate visits wherever possible, and to do so in a risk-managed way”.
Are you still struggling to get visits with a relative or friend in care? Are you worried about getting in over the xmas break?We're here if you need any advice or support. One of our specialist advisors, Emma, will be running our surgery this evening, 6-8pm📞 0207 359 8136 pic.twitter.com/3QqkpKak8q
— R&RA (@relresuk) December 9, 2021
Some care homes have told families they will only have a limited number of visits available over the festive season, paused visiting for a number of days, or restricted visits to the resident’s nominated essential caregiver.
Others are said to be refusing to grant relatives essential caregiver status, or restricting visits to timed slots.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “Is this all people in care can expect from their regulator in the face of another Christmas being left behind?
“Whilst the rest of the country is free to get together with whoever and however many people they want, those in care are told only three ‘visitors’ plus an essential caregiver.”
She said urgent action has been needed for months to end the “postcode lottery, where residents are at the whim of the care home manager”.
She continued: “In the wake of the most sustained and catastrophic attack on human rights in care, CQC are content to sit back and wait for concerns to be reported to them.
“Due to the vast power imbalance in care, we know from our helpline that many families are too afraid to speak out and even report concerns to the CQC for fear of reprisals, including ultimately eviction.”
The CQC said it does not have the power to compel homes to inform it of changes to their visiting policies, or to require homes to report live data on how many visits are occurring.
It said anyone with concerns about visiting in registered care locations can contact it on 03000 616161 or fill out a feedback form here: https://www.cqc.org.uk/give-feedback-on-care