Coronavirus: New guidance on care home visits will 'literally leave people out in the cold'

·3-min read

Care experts have criticised the government's new guidance on visiting loved ones in care homes, saying they will "literally leave people out in the cold".

As of Thursday, so-called "ad-hoc" visits will not be allowed during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said care homes "will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities".

It also approved visits at windows, "where the visitor doesn't need to come inside the care home or where the visitor remains in their car, and the resident is socially distanced".

The National Care Forum (NCF) has acknowledged the "sentiment" of the measures, but said it was important the government understood "just how vital" visiting is to the "hundreds of thousands of people who live in care homes", and how "heart-breaking" it is to be separated from families and friends.

"In a time of national lockdown it is a positive step that the government has not locked out visitors completely," said Vic Rayner, the NCF's executive director.

"However, warm words will not escape the fact that these arrangements, without urgent support, will leave many, literally, out in the cold."

She also called on the government to "urgently clarify" what the arrangements mean in practice, and said extra financial support and practical safety measures were also needed.

The NCF said that the short-notice updates meant that care homes - many of which were in areas where visits had been banned for months by local health authorities - had less than 12 hours to prepare.

"In order for this to be a reality, the guidance needs to be practicable, supportive, resourced and facilitate meaningful visits that relatives and residents can gain from, and that care homes can provide," Ms Rayner continued.

The government has said that more substantial plans to allow specific family and friends to visit care homes supported by a testing programme were currently being developed, although trials would not begin until later this month.

"Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities," the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

"We've seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.

"It is vital high-quality, compassionate care and infection control remains at the heart of every single care home to protect staff and residents' lives, but we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible."

But the Alzheimer's Society has said the guidance "completely misses the point" for those with the condition and their families.

The guidance says measures could include designated visitor pods with floor-to-ceiling screens and separate entrances, and outdoor meet-ups with one other person.

Kate Lee, the charity's chief executive, said those with Alzheimer's "won't understand and will be distressed by what's going on around them".

She said: "The prison-style screens the government proposes, with people speaking through phones, are frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak."

"Aside from the naive assumption that care homes have the resource, the space and time to build these screens, distraught families will read this news and despair."

On Wednesday, a woman was arrested after attempting to take her 97-year-old mother out of a care home for lockdown.

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Qualified nurse Ylenia Angeli, 73, wanted to look after her mother, who has dementia, at home. But when she told staff at the facility, they called the police, who then briefly arrested Ms Angeli.

Video shows her being handcuffed inside a patrol car, while her elderly mother sat in the front of the family car.

The family have not been able to see their elderly relative for nine months, and decided to act ahead of the second national lockdown.

Ms Angeli was taken to Hull police station before being "de-arrested" and released without charge.