UK Government reverses decision to ban visits to aged care residents during second COVID lockdown

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Aged care homes will be able to receive visitors – even in areas of high coronavirus infection – after the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock (pictured above), bowed to pressure from residents, families and aged care providers.

Home must now allow residents to receive visits “in a COVID-secure way” using social distancing and PPE under new guidelines to be issued as the country goes into its second month-long lockdown.

As we reported on Wednesday, the Government had warned that visiting should be stopped in areas with tier 2 and tier 3 lockdown restrictions, apart from in exceptional circumstances such as end-of-life care.

Just eight hours before the lockdown began, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced homes will be given a set of “clear principles for how visits are conducted – with arrangements to be adapted from home to home, based on residents’ needs and accounting for care homes’ varying layouts and facilities”.

These will include visiting areas or pods with floor-to-ceiling screens and windows that don’t require visitors to enter the main areas of the home, the DHSC added. Window visits and car visits are also recommended.

Advocacy groups have welcomed the decision – but cautioned they could also backfire, with concern that homes that have been managing visits will cancel them if they can’t meet the new requirements.

“We are also acutely aware that the methods of visiting being sanctioned are unlikely to be usable by many older people with dementia, or indeed sensory loss,” Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s director, said.

The DHSC also revealed it will launch a pilot of testing visitors by the end of November after the Care Minister, Helen Whately, said planning for such a system was underway last month.

“Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities. It is vital high quality, compassionate care and infection control remains at the heart of every single care home to protect staff and residents’ lives, but we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible,” Mr Hancock said.