Finally, a ray of hope for older people living in care. In month nine of visiting restrictions for care homes across England, the Government has committed to testing for visitors by Christmas, allowing family/friends to have meaningful visits with physical contact. This has been a key ask in R&RA’s campaign to End Isolation In Care and is very welcome news. It will allow older people in care to be reconnected with their family/friends not only to allow the kind of contact much needed for emotional well-being such as holding hands and hugging, but also support with personal care crucial for physical well-being, including help with eating/drinking.
Of course, the devil will be in the detail and the announcement will be followed by ‘detailed guidance’ to be published ‘shortly’. Months of campaigning, by R&RA alongside other organisations, has already achieved improvements to the Government guidance, including dropping the cruel time limit on visits and removing the privacy-destroying stipulation that staff supervise visits. We must ensure this next iteration of the guidance is a further improvement and does not continue to repeat current defects.
For example, currently the guidance stipulates that in the event of an outbreak homes should stop visiting until recovered, defined as 28 days since the last case. This is double the isolation period for anyone outside a care setting and is a key reason many homes are not permitting any visitors. Rather than encouraging such blanket approaches, the guidance should stress that decisions should be based on individual risk and needs assessments. Family/friends who are providing crucial practical/emotional support should be seen as a central part of the care team and subject to the same safety measures as staff.
The guidance should also explain its status as advisory and how it fits with providers’ duties under laws such as the Human Rights Act and Equality Act as well as other legal regulations. This will help release us from the topsy-turvy world we currently find ourselves in, where guidance is being read as law whilst laws are being overlooked.
Sadly, this announcement has come too late for many older people who have passed away without the love and support of their family and friends over months of isolation. That precious time can never be replaced, leaving scars that might never heal. Questions will have to be answered about why the Government has taken so long to introduce this proposed scheme and why testing was not prioritised for older people in dire need of support. For now, time is of the essence. We urge the Government to implement this new scheme urgently to protect the rights of older people ignored for so many months.