COVID-19: Care home visits with hand holding to be allowed as first step on PM's roadmap out of lockdown

·3-min read

Care home residents in England will be able to hold hands with one named visitor starting from 8 March, the government has announced.

Those inside facilities will be able to have one person who can regularly come to see them - and while hand holding will be allowed, hugging and kissing will not.

It is the first part of the prime minister's "roadmap" to ease the coronavirus lockdown to be announced.

Visitors will have to take a lateral flow test before entering the home, and will have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Restrictions have been in place while the country has been under national lockdown.

There have been concerns of lateral flow tests being used for so-called "greenlighting", as it has been argued they trade speed for accuracy.

Further guidance is expected to be published in upcoming days.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed it as a "first step to getting back to where we want to be".

Professor Deborah Sturdy, the chief nurse for adult social care, said: "I know how much people want to visit, hug and kiss their loved ones but doing so can put lives at risk so we would ask people to continue to follow the rules.

"This is a first step towards resuming indoor visits and we all hope to be able to take further steps in the future.

"I am pleased as a result of so many people following the rules we are in a position to increase visits and hope this is just the start."

The current plan has been designed in partnership with the Deputy Chief Medical Officers and Public Health England.

Visits taking place outdoors, in pods or through screens will continue as per published guidance.

The government met its target to offer all care home residents, as well as social care and NHS staff, a vaccine by 15 February.

Vaccination is not mandatory, and will not be required of visitors.

Care homes will be allowed to exercise discretion about whether more people are allowed to visit depending on exceptional circumstances - although the named person will not be able to change.

Visits will be suspended during local lockdowns at care homes.

Mr Hancock said: "I know how important visiting a loved one is and I'm pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.

"This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step by step way in the future."

Care Minister Helen Whately added: "One of the hardest things during this pandemic has been seeing families desperate to be reunited with their loved ones kept apart and I absolutely want to bring them back together.

"Throughout this pandemic we have sought clinical guidance on how visits can be conducted safely.

"We had to restrict the majority of visiting when the new variant was discovered but we have done all we can to enable visits to continue in some form. That includes providing funding towards costs of screens and PPE.

"As we begin to open up we will move step by step to increase visits while remembering we are still in the grip of a global pandemic."

Shadow health and social care minister Liz Kendall said: "For the last seven months, backed by Labour and charities, families have been calling for care home visits to start again and to be treated as key workers with access to all the PPE and testing they need.

"Over this period ministers have repeatedly failed to grasp how important families are for the physical and mental health of care home residents and the appalling impact preventing visits has caused.

"Never again must families be denied the right to visit their loved ones in care homes. To have any confidence that things will really change, we need legislation to enshrine residents' rights to visits and end the scandal of blanket visiting bans."