Too many families not reunited with care home residents, charity says

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Too many families have not been reunited, despite the Government saying that care home residents in England can receive indoor visits from a nominated person, a charity has said.

Some care homes are saying they will not open to visitors until April 12, while others will not allow indoor visits until residents have had their second vaccine dose, the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) said.

Others are refusing to allow access to visitors who provide essential care and support to their loved one, which was also allowed from last Monday, its helpline has heard.

The latest Government guidance says care home residents can receive regular indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative, who must be tested and wear protective gear.

Those with the highest care needs are also able to receive visits from a loved one providing essential care or support, with these visits permitted to continue even if the home has a coronavirus outbreak, unless there are “specific reasons”.

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End-of-life visits “should always be enabled”, with the direction that this should not just take place at the very end of life.

The R&RA said families who have been able to visit have been “disturbed” by the significant weight loss, pain, distress or loss of cognition of their loved one.

It is hearing of “too many” visiting policies where blanket rules are applied, including 30-minute limits which are not always appropriate for some residents, such as those with dementia who may need more time to “settle into” the visit.

It is also aware of families being permitted end-of-life visits at too late a stage, when they may already be unconscious.

And some of those given access are being subject to restrictive rules – such as being asked to wash their hair before visiting or to bring clean clothes to change into on arrival.

At the end of February, the care regulator intervened after it emerged that blanket visiting bans were in operation in England, contrary to the guidance in place at the time.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said providers should not wait until the vaccination programme is complete before allowing loved ones to visit residents.

It said it may inspect homes if it receives reports of blanket visiting bans and will take regulatory action if appropriate.

The regulator has not said how many reports of blanket bans it has received.

The R&RA is calling for the CQC to actively monitor how care homes are complying with guidance, so the onus is not on family members to report issues.

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It said it is difficult to know the scale of the problem as many families are scared to speak out, for fear of reprisals.

Helen Wildbore, R&RA director, said: “This past week our helpline has heard heart-warming stories of families reuniting and taking their first steps to rekindle lost relationships, reignite fading memories and reconnect, albeit through latex gloves.

“However, for too many families this promise has not become a reality.

“We have received a flood of calls from distraught families still not able to have visits, or facing blanket rules which make visits too distressing for the most vulnerable residents.

“Helpline callers who have had their first meaningful visit in a year are disturbed by seeing the decline in their relative first-hand.

“From significant weight loss to the decline in cognition, a year of isolation has had a devastating impact on mental and physical health.

“We are supporting families to pick up the pieces of a year of isolation.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We understand visits to care homes are crucial in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents, and we are doing everything we can to safely reintroduce visits.

“While care home providers and managers are best placed to determine safe visiting arrangements in each unique setting, we are clear we expect all care homes to do what they can to follow our guidance.

“If people have concerns with the visiting arrangements available, we urge them to raise the matter with the home initially, and then contact the CQC if they are not satisfied that the issue is resolved.”