Care home residents in England will be limited to a maximum of two regular visitors, with meetings taking place outdoors “wherever possible”, the Government has announced.
Guidance published on Thursday afternoon, hours after England entered its second national lockdown, said that care providers should carry out a risk assessment for allowing visitors on site in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The guidance also suggested meeting through a window, despite the onset of winter.
Julia Jones, from dementia rights organisation John’s Campaign, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s terribly, terribly sad that some people in this country will be pathetically grateful for the chance to go and look at the person they love through a window.
“I hesitate to call this a ‘visit’.”
The Department of Health and Social Care acknowledged that “maintaining some opportunities for visiting to take place is critical for supporting the health and wellbeing of residents and their relationships with friends and family”, but said this should take place “in the open air wherever possible”.
It said visitor numbers “should be limited to a single constant visitor wherever possible, with an absolute maximum of two constant visitors per resident”.
It means multiple people from the same family would not be able to visit their loved one.
It said personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn throughout the visit, with all involved adhering to social distancing rules.
Meetings should be booked in advance, the guidance said, with “ad-hoc” visits refused.
It said visits should be stopped immediately in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, save for in exceptional circumstances such as imminent death.
Responding to the guidance, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of care home provider Care England, said: “Whilst it is a relief to have guidance it must be noted that it is late and should have been in place a while ago.
“Over the next few weeks we urge the Government to work with the sector to implement a really coherent policy … that give much greater clarity and hope as lockdown eases.”
Sam Monaghan, chief executive of charity care provider MHA, said routine testing for regular visitors would be the best way to facilitate face-to-face contact.
The DHSC said visitor testing trials are due to begin later this month.
Mr Monaghan told the Today programme: “The challenge we’ve got is we are seeing and experiencing every day the toll of the separation between residents and their families.
“We are trying to balance the emotional and mental health wellbeing of our residents with the call, quite clearly, to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society from the ravages of Covid-19.
“We need the Government to really take hold of that testing agenda.”