The damage that face masks on visitors is doing to the welfare of care home residents is outweighing the protection they offer, a care home group has said.
The need for the current level of infection control measures is “increasingly diminishing” in homes where the vaccine has been successfully rolled out among residents and staff, according to Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare.
The group, which has 45 homes across England and one in Wales, has written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning that some of these “once protective measures are now damaging the wellbeing of care home residents”.
The letter reads: “The requirement for visitors to wear face masks, aside from those exempt, is an example of a policy which is now causing more damage to the welfare of residents than it offers in medical protection.
“For many residents, a visit from their family member has provided invaluable improvements to their wellbeing, but the requirement for these visitors to wear a face mask degrades the level of connection, and therefore devalues the positive impacts their visits can have.
“This restrictive policy, along with various others from both the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) and PHE (Public Health England), should be reconsidered as we approach this next step in England’s road map out of lockdown.”
The letter says the success of the vaccine programme among staff and residents means that the majority of care homes “are now set to confidently return back to an enhanced degree of normality”.
All 46 Sunrise and Gracewell homes have at least 90% of residents vaccinated and all but one also have more than 80% of staff jabbed.
This is the threshold that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) says needs to be met in each setting to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid-19 outbreaks.
Anna Selby, head of the group’s Covid-19 taskforce, said continuing to require vaccinated relatives to wear face masks and book visits in advance to care homes’ schedules will “further erode people’s relationships”.
She told the PA news agency: “If we’ve got the protections in place, we feel we need to start moving everything back to normal so that people have their relationships back, and that includes their relatives.”
She continued: “We are still treating care homes really differently, with this kind of paternalistic attitude as to what can and cannot happen… at what point do we start to recognise that our residents are citizens with rights in line with everybody else?”
The National Care Forum said the care sector is still awaiting clear guidance on how it should operate, days away from the unlocking on July 19.
Chief executive Vic Rayner said: “Providers need to understand how the impact of these changes will affect how they operate and will need to be able to communicate this quickly with the people who receive care and support, their loved ones and the care workforce.
“Providers should not be expected to do this with only a few hours’ notice.
“Furthermore, people using services and their loved ones need to know how these changes will affect them and how they engage with care services going forward.”