Friends and relatives who provide essential care to care home residents should be allowed to continue visiting if the home has a coronavirus outbreak unless there is a specific reason not to, new guidance says.
Care homes in England should enable every resident to be visited indoors by a “single named visitor” from Monday who will be tested and wear protective equipment.
These visitors will be allowed to hold hands with their friend or relative, but will be asked to minimise physical contact and should not hug or kiss them, to help reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19.
The new visiting guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says visiting is not conditional on the resident or visitor having been vaccinated, but this is “strongly recommended”.
The Government has also said residents with the highest care needs will be able to nominate a visitor to provide essential care or emotional support.
This will happen in exceptional circumstances where “close contact personal care from a loved one is critical for the resident’s immediate health and wellbeing”.
The guidance says visits by essential care givers and those in end-of-life situations should “always be enabled”.
It reads: “The situation described for essential care givers is considered an exceptional circumstance and should therefore continue in the event of an outbreak unless there are specific reasons not to do so.”
The Government will decide whether to extend the number of visitors to two per resident at step two of its road map and no earlier than April 12.
The guidance also says the named visitor should remain the same person “as far as possible” but that care homes should be “pragmatic” if this is not possible.
For example, a named visitor may be temporarily unable to visit due to falling ill.
It reads: “We advise care homes and families to take a pragmatic approach, with the aim of minimising change wherever possible.”
The guidance says nominated visitors should be tested with lateral flow “rapid result” tests before every visit and visits should be planned in advance.
Essential care givers will likely be the same person as the named visitor but could be an additional person, and will be able to visit more often.
The guidance says they will need to take further steps to reduce risk as they will have closer physical contact with the resident and may spend longer in and around the care home.
They will need to take a rapid result test before every visit, with at least two tests a week, a weekly PCR test, and be subject to additional testing in line with staff testing.
The guidance is advisory and notes that care home managers are “best placed” to decide how to best enable visiting.
The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) said it was disappointed by the guidance which “doesn’t go nearly far enough to provide older people with the support needed to protect their wellbeing, or to make sure meaningful visits become a reality”.
Director Helen Wildbore said: “Many of our helpline callers will welcome this first step of being able to see and hold hands with their relatives.
“But only allowing help with care in exceptional circumstances, for those in ‘critical’ need, will leave the majority of residents without the support desperately needed.
“People with dementia and other conditions rely on touch, not just in ‘critical’ situations but as part of everyday wellbeing.
“The new guidance lacks the teeth necessary to ensure the Prime Minister’s promise to reunite older people with their families becomes a reality.
“Instead the Government continue to pass the buck on to care providers without providing the clarity and direction needed to make sure this happens.”
The National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit care providers, said providers will need support to implement the guidance.
Chief executive Vic Rayner said: “The Prime Minister has made a commitment that this, and other cautious moves out of national lockdown, are ‘irreversible’ and he must ensure that all parties at local and national level work together to fulfil that promise.
“The important introduction of the essential caregiver role will provide the vital continuity that our most vulnerable residents need.
“It will enable those residents who desperately need to be reconnected with loved ones to be reunited and have them once again a consistent part of their life in the care home.”