Government guidance requiring care home residents to isolate for 14 days if they leave their facility encourages care homes to act unlawfully by “falsely imprisoning” residents, say campaigners who are threatening legal action.
John’s Campaign is “very concerned” about guidance which it says “creates an unacceptable risk of illegality” and is likely to deprive residents of their liberty.
It is considering a challenge, with lawyers sending a pre-action letter – the step before formal legal proceedings begin – to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The DHSC guidance, updated on April 7, requires residents to isolate for 14 days after a trip out of the home.
The letter, sent by Leigh Day, says it is “entirely unclear” on what basis the “punitive rule” is justified.
It states that the self-isolation rule “creates an unacceptable risk of illegality, because it encourages (indeed, requires) care homes to act unlawfully (namely, by falsely imprisoning care home residents and/or depriving residents of their liberty”.
The guidance is unlawful by encouraging and requiring such conduct, it adds.
The DHSC had initially said that residents over working age could not leave care homes, but this was dropped from guidance after John’s Campaign sent an earlier letter threatening legal action.
The current, amended guidance says the 14-day isolation rule is to ensure that residents who may become unknowingly infected do not pass coronavirus to other residents and staff.
But it says: “We recognise that in practice, this is likely to mean that many residents will not wish to make a visit out of the home.”
The letter says the Government has not made it clear that the isolation period does not apply to individuals returning from a medical appointment.
Some residents are being advised to do this, it says, leading to individuals who feel they could not cope with the requirement turning down care.
Others simply want to be able to take a walk in their local park with a loved one who is their designated visitor or caregiver.
It also notes that care plans for individuals with learning disabilities, autism or dementia “frequently make provision for regular visits out and even extended stays with family”.
The letter adds: “Guidance that imposes a self-isolation requirement that lacks a lawful basis and puts care providers at risk of committing acts of false imprisonment or deprivation of liberty is clearly not fit for purpose, and a situation where the general population has a clear road map out of lockdown, whilst people in care homes do not, is unacceptable.”
John’s Campaign is asking the Government to remove the 14-day isolation requirement from guidance.
It has asked the Government to respond by April 21.
Julia Jones, co-founder of John’s Campaign, said: “At a time that we are mourning the death of an almost-centenarian who lived his life fully to the end, I find it deeply saddening that we have to take the Government to court to establish the right for all adults to be able to step out into the fresh air accompanied by a trusted friend or family member.
“There are probably as many people living and working in a castle as in a medium-sized care home but I dread to think what Prince Philip would have said if he’d been told he needed to self-isolate for 14 days after a walk with his wife in the park!
“The current Government guidance that effectively imprisons all care home residents by the threat of 14-days self-isolation reveals a shameful disregard for a group of people who have already lost more than a year from their lives.”
Alongside the letter, John’s Campaign has sent the Government evidence from seven families describing the impact of the “barbaric” and “grossly unfair” isolation requirement.
These include Jane, who said her 83-year-old father Reg “cannot live with the threat that if he wants to be taken out for a walk in the park, he then has to stay isolated in his room for two weeks”.
She said: “The reality of his situation is one of loneliness and isolation and of no outlook.
“He lives in a home where he has caught Covid already but the hardest part is that he has nothing to look forward to.
“He keeps saying ‘I just want to get out’.”
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the families.
A DHSC spokesman said: “We understand contact with family and friends is vital to the health and wellbeing of residents and we are doing everything we can to provide safe opportunities to meet.
“As we continue to move along the road map out of lockdown – guided by the data – we want to enable care home residents to enjoy a range of trips out of the care home, wherever it is safe and proportionate to do so.
“Guidance on visits out of care homes will be kept under review including, when the data shows it is safe, looking again at the requirement for residents to isolate on their return from a visit.”