Relatives & Residents Association

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End isolation in care

Updated 17 November:

The continued isolation of older people in care is putting their human rights at risk. Eight months after care homes went into lockdown, many older people are still unable to see their family and friends. Inadequate guidance from the Government about visiting has kept many homes in lockdown and led to unworkable policies which have made visiting impossible for some families. We are calling for better guidance from Government on visiting and for family/friends to be granted keyworker status with access to regular testing.

As a second national lockdown came into effect across England, Parliament passed new legal regulations confirming it is still lawful to visit someone in a care home. Yet, Government guidance for care homes now encourages prison-like visiting, impractical for many older people and demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding about the kind of support family/friends provide.

The decision by the Government to pilot the keyworker scheme is a wholly inadequate response to the crisis unfolding in care homes. The prospect of a winter of continued isolation could have catastrophic consequences for older people’s rights. The average length of stay in care homes is just over two years and we are now in month nine of visiting restrictions. For some it is too late and the loss of that precious time can never be replaced, leaving scars that might never heal. For others, time is of the essence.

The impact of months of isolation on older people in care has been devastating. We hear daily from callers to the R&RA Helpline about how their relatives in care are deteriorating, with people losing weight, losing speech, no longer recognising family members, and ‘losing the will to live’. People living in care need to be urgently reconnected with their support networks, to reinstate the crucial emotional and practical support family/friends provide. From help with eating, to relieving the distress of dementia, many family carers play a vital role in helping protect the well-being of their relatives.

“Last night my mother almost broke my heart when she said ‘I’m so afraid that I may die in this place before lockdown is lifted. I’ll never meet my great grandson’. She is mentally strong and acutely aware of her own fragility these days. I fear that she is being kept alive physically but is losing the will to live. People cannot survive without hope and there is no hope being offered here.” Margaret, R&RA Helpline caller, Gloucester

People living in care have been left behind once again by the Government. Residents feel abandoned. Relatives are becoming increasingly anxious and frustrated. Care staff, already facing burn out, will be doing what they can to fill the void but cannot replace the support and love of family/friends.

We need to find a safe way to manage the virus in care settings and achieve a better balance between protecting people from COVID-19 and protecting their well-being. Care homes are people’s homes. People living in them don’t just want to survive, they want to live.

Change needed

Better guidance from Government is urgently needed, to support care homes to safely manage the virus. R&RA is calling for the current guidance on visiting to be changed, including:

  • Essential visitors: family/friend carers providing crucial practical/emotional support should be seen as a vital part of the care team, subject to the same safety protocols as staff – this needs to be implemented urgently
  • Single, constant visitor: this should be removed from the guidance, it is inhumane, impractical and creates painful decisions for families
  • Regular testing: this must be made available for visitors, as well as residents and staff
  • Group decisions: rather than encouraging blanket policies, putting people’s rights at risk, decisions in all care homes should be based on individual assessments

Care providers need clarity and leadership. They need clear, practical guidance and support from the Government about managing visits whilst COVID-free or if they develop cases, to help them plan for our ‘new normal’.

“The government needs to provide clearer guidance which works for residents, families, and the care sector; many of whom are looking to offer a better regime for visits, but the current out-of-date guidance does not support this.” Richard Hawes, Chief Executive, Elizabeth Finn Homes Ltd

Take action

We need your help to push for these changes. Please get involved in our campaign to End Isolation In Care, by calling for better visiting guidance. You can:

  • Write to your MP – use our Template Letter, with space to add your own message about why you think this is important (you can find and write to your MP here)
  • Tweet your support – use #EndIsolationInCare to share why you think this is important. Sample tweet:
    • We need better visiting guidance from @DHSCgovuk to #EndIsolationInCare because [add your personal message / older people’s rights should be respected / older people’s wellbeing should be protected]
  • Spread the word – share the link to this page and the hashtag with your friends on Facebook and elsewhere to get others involved

Please let us know what action you take and keep us updated on any responses from your MP, the Department of Health and Social Care or others: info@relres.org


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