Hundreds of thousands of care home residents in England will be able to receive indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative from today.
Every resident will be able to nominate a person to visit them indoors, while residents with the highest care needs can receive more frequent visits from a loved one who will provide essential care and support.
Visitors will be tested prior to visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.
Handholding is permitted but hugs and kissing are not, to help reduce the chance of spreading the virus, the Government has said in its latest visiting guidance.
Visiting is not conditional on the resident or visitor having been vaccinated, but this is “strongly recommended”, it says.
Outdoor visits, window visits and those in pods should continue so residents can see other loved ones, it adds.
In care homes where there are coronavirus outbreaks, nominated visitors will not be able to come into the care home.
But visitors providing essential care, and visits when the resident is at the end of their life, can continue.
According to the latest Public Health England surveillance data, there were 230 suspected respiratory outbreaks in care homes reported in the week ending February 28, 167 of which involved at least one confirmed cases of Covid-19.
It is around a year since some care homes first closed their doors, several weeks ahead of the first lockdown on March 23.
Over this time, visiting guidance has changed several times and visiting opportunities have varied across the country, with some areas in local lockdowns.
Some indoor visits resumed in December as rapid-result tests were rolled out to care homes, but this was not permitted during the current lockdown.
Opening up care homes forms part of the first step of the Government’s road map which sets out how restrictions could be eased over the coming months.
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.
We’ll be monitoring the situation very carefully to ensure all types of permitted visits are happening, and look for them to be extended to more family members at the earliest possible opportunityAlzheimer’s Society
Campaigners have welcomed the resumption of visits, but some said the new guidance does not go far enough.
The guidance is advisory and notes that care home managers are “best placed” to decide how to best enable visiting.
Just over a week ago, 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 this was “unacceptable” and warned that 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.
New visiting guidance just published (finally!). Analysis to follow...https://t.co/1llGCDZslQ— R&RA (@relresuk) March 4, 2021
The Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) wants the CQC to go further and proactively monitor how care homes are complying with guidance.
Director Helen Wildbore said: “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 Alzheimer’s Society said the resumptions of visits “couldn’t have come soon enough” following months of families watching their loved ones through windows and screens.
James White, head of public affairs and campaigns, said: “Close contact indoor visits must be the default position – so it’s good the Government has been clear that blanket bans on visiting are not acceptable.
“We’ve campaigned for many months to ensure family carers are recognised as essential to the care of people with dementia.
“We’ll be monitoring the situation very carefully to ensure all types of permitted visits are happening, and look for them to be extended to more family members at the earliest possible opportunity.
“We hope, at last, further anguish and loss of life can be ended for people with dementia, who have been worst hit by the pandemic and endured months of isolation.”