The Government has published long-awaited guidance about rolling out testing to family members and friends of those in care, to allow for meaningful visits to take place. Whilst there is much to welcome, this is a far cry from the clear instructions residents and their family/friends had been hoping for and it hasn’t been backed up with support for care homes for implementation. After months of isolation, having a devastating impact on resident’s mental and physical health, the promise of meaningful visits must urgently become a reality.
The shift in emphasis in the guidance is welcome, stressing the ‘default position’ that visiting should be facilitated. But this comes in month ten of visiting restrictions. ‘Visiting’ is not just about popping in for a chat over a cup of tea. It is about continuing to have a relationship with your partner, children, and grandchildren. It is about life-sustaining support like help with eating and drinking. It is about helping to relieve the distress or confusion of dementia. There has been a deluge of evidence from all corners of the country about how desperately needed this support is. Finally, with Christmas around the corner, the Government is now in a rush to make this happen. So much so, they don’t seem to have thought through the logistics or the support care homes will need with this task.
Already we are hearing of local authorities instructing care homes not to use the ‘rapid tests’ as outlined in the guidance, due to concerns about their accuracy. Questions have also been raised about the capacity of care staff to undertake this task, with no additional funding from Government. These kind of issues should have been considered and resolved long ago, or at least during the pilot phase.
In the meantime, we continue to hear from families via our helpline anxious about when they will be allowed meaningful visits. The onus is still on providers to decide how, and when, to implement the guidance. Time is of the essence. The average length of stay in a care home is just over two years. For some this will be their last Christmas. Whilst the new guidance offers a ray of hope at the end of a long road of heartache, families desperately need more than hope and the Government cannot ignore the human rights crisis unfolding in care.