Minister vows to end ‘misery’ of care homes banning family visits

Helen Whately meets residents at the Alexandra HC One care home in Lewisham (David Madden)
Helen Whately meets residents at the Alexandra HC One care home in Lewisham (David Madden)

A minister has vowed to end the “misery and despair” of care homes not permitting family visits following claims that some homes are still imposing restrictions during Covid outbreaks.

Helen Whately, health and social care minister, told the Standard she was “determined to fix” the issue after figures revealed one in ten relatives had been denied access to see a relative during an outbreak.

All remaining Covid restrictions on care homes were lifted in March and the Government “recommends” that homes allow visits by family members, though they are not legally compelled to do so. All visits were banned during the pandemic, leading to significant mental and physical deterioration for many care home residents.

A survey by the Rights for Residents (RfR) campaign found that one in ten relatives (11 per cent) said they were denied the right to visit during Covid outbreaks between April and September this year. Nearly half of those surveyed (45 per cent) said care homes were imposing resrictions outside of an outbreak.

Speaking after a visit to the Alexandra Care Home in Lewisham on Thursday, Ms Whately said: “I’m still hearing from families around the country who are being stopped from visiting their loved ones. It’s something I’ve experienced myself too.

“I know the feeling of misery, despair and even anger at being kept away from someone you are desperately worried about. This is something I’m determined to fix.”

The RfR campaign has urged ministers to ensure that anyone living in care has the legal right to at least one essential care supporter who can visit in all circumstances.

Labour MP Dan Carden led a parliamentary debate on the issue last week, which attracted cross party support from Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, and Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts.

He told MPs that families had endured the “collective trauma” of being denied visits during the Covid pandemic and said constituents had told him “heartbreaking stories” of relatives being denied access to loved ones.

"Really there's only one thing that can resolve this and that's legislation, to put in law the right of people in care settings to have visitors,” he told MPs.

Ms Cooper, MP for St Albans, said "many of my constituents fear" reporting visitor restrictions, "terrified of being labelled a troublemaker, stopped from visiting or seeing their loved one evicted".

The National Care Association has said it did not know of any care homes that are “definitely not allowing visitors”.

Ms Whately served in the role of care minister throughout the pandemic before being moved to the Treasury in September 2021.

During the visit, she also noted that one of the government’s “big challenges” to free up capacity in the NHS was ensuring patients in hospital are discharged when they are fit to leave.

“These are my priorities as we move into the winter - fixing visiting, boosting the care workforce and making sure people who need social care can get it, so in turn our NHS hospitals have the beds for people who need them.”