Government plans to pilot giving family/friends keyworker status, allowing them to visit people living in care, are a derisory response to months of isolation. Inadequate guidance from the Government about visiting led to unworkable policies which have made visiting impossible for some families. The impact of seven months of isolation on older people in care has been devastating; our helpline hears daily of people deteriorating and even losing the will to live.
R&RA called for urgent action to avoid a mental health crisis in care back in June. Our campaign to End Isolation In Care has been calling for older people to be urgently reconnected with their support networks, to reinstate the crucial emotional and practical help family/friends provide. The Government’s announcement of a pilot visiting scheme is too little and, sadly, too late for many older people.
The announcement came with no details of when the pilot will begin, the criteria that will be used to measure success or a timetable for rollout to the rest of country. It came a day after the Scottish Government updated their guidance to allow designated visitors, among a raft of other support measures for those living in care. No pilot was needed, recognising the importance of balancing the serious risks posed to residents by the virus with the right to family life and the mental and emotional well-being of residents.
In the meantime, a paper by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), advising the Government on COVID-19, reported their findings on the impact of the visiting ban in care homes and hospitals. SAGE found the prohibition of visitors had a low impact on COVID transmission, a low impact on deaths and severe infections as “most introduction in care homes is probably by staff” but a moderate-high impact on well-being, with a “substantial social and emotional impact on residents and relatives”.
The Government needs to take urgent action to end isolation in care and issue better visiting guidance to support care homes to safely manage visits. Tokenistic gestures are not enough when older people’s human rights are on the line.