The Health Secretary has hinted there may be “good news” soon for care home residents currently required to isolate for two weeks after a trip out, as he revealed the “vast majority” have had two vaccine doses.
Current guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) requires residents to isolate for 14 days after a trip out of the home.
The Government has been threatened with legal action over the rule, which campaigners say encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents.
During Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference, a member of the public asked Matt Hancock when people will be able to take their loved ones for a walk without them having to isolate on their return.
Rachel from Derby said her mother has been unable to leave her care home for almost 14 months and is now on anti-depressants after deteriorating, adding: “Please help us find a safe way for this to happen very soon.”
Mr Hancock said he was aware of the “risks and health consequences” of care home residents not having visitors and not being able to go out without then needing to isolate.
He said: “We are working on it right now, and in fact I had a meeting on this yesterday, to make sure we can get the rules right so that people can safely leave a care home and come back without bringing coronavirus back into the home.
“And especially now that vaccinations have taken place – amongst residents, the vast, vast majority have now had two doses and amongst staff vaccination rates are rising as well – and also because the rates of coronavirus are so much lower in the community, so I hope that we can have some good news for you soon, Rachel.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said it was “desperately important” to restore normality for people in residential care, but that this must be done carefully.
He said more data was needed on whether the vaccines work as well in the “extremely frail elderly as they do in the fit and younger adult”, as well as in the clinically vulnerable.
“Those data are going to take a little while longer to give us real clarity,” he said.
“And they will help us pull this picture together so that I hope we can move with maximum safe speed to get back to normal.”
John’s Campaign is considering a challenge to the guidance, with lawyers sending a pre-action letter – the step before formal legal proceedings begin – to the DHSC.
Julia Jones and Nicci Gerrard of John’s Campaign, who are represented by Leigh Day solicitor Tessa Gregory, said: “Vague promises that things might change in the future are not good enough.
“After a year of isolation and loneliness action is needed now.
“The current guidance on visits out is not fit for purpose, it is encouraging care homes to unlawfully imprison their residents and John’s Campaign will continue with their legal action unless and until the guidance is changed.”