New guidance for care homes allows families to meet again

By David Forrest - Integrated Care Journal

The lockdown has been devastating for many peoples' mental health, especially in care homes where isolation has been amplified. With the R-rate decreasing, care homes which have taken the correct precautions with Covid have been issued new guidance allowing them to begin to open up.

Care homes will be expected to take a measured, risk-assessed approach, considering the situation in specific care homes as well as the community context, including any local outbreaks. Local directors of public health will lead the assessments on visiting care homes within their local authority.

It has been recommended that all visitors to care homes wear face coverings and thoroughly wash their hands during their visit. It is also recommended that, depending on the purpose of their visit, visitors may have to wear gloves and aprons. In addition, visits should take place in a communal garden or outdoor area which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building where possible.

Care homes have been recommended to support the NHS Test and Trace programme by keeping a temporary record of address and phone number of current and previous residents, staff and visitors, as well as keeping track of visitor numbers and staff.

To limit risk during visitation, the recommendations also outline that there should be only one constant visitor per resident wherever possible. This is to limit the overall number of visitors to the care home and the consequent risk of infection.

It is expected that all care homes will only relax visiting arrangements for specific individual needs and continue to take the health protection of the whole care home as their main objective.

Vice President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, Professor Jim McManus, commented: “This new guidance will support directors of public health, working with directors of adult social care and the local care sector to take a risk-based approach to enable visits where possible whilst trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19. ”

The easing of lockdown has promised a return to normality but Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock aired on the side of caution, commenting: “We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.

“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone," he added.

This guidance has received input from a number of stakeholders across social care and local government including Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society UK, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Association of Directors of Public Health Care.

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