15 March 2021:
It is now a week since new guidance on visiting came into effect. From what we are hearing on our helpline, the Government’s promise of reuniting families has not become a reality for too many older people. From blanket bans to restrictive rules, below we summarise some of the barriers families have faced during the past seven days.
Blanket bans persist. We hear some homes are refusing to reopen until 12 April or when residents have their second dose of the vaccine. Too many visiting policies apply blanket rules, such as strict 30 minute visits in a dedicated visiting room, without consideration of individual needs. These visits don’t work for many, for example people with dementia who may be distressed or confused and take 30 minutes to ‘settle into’ the visit. The lack of individual assessments is a clear breach of the guidance, and of care providers’ duties under the Human Rights Act and Equality Act. Without the CQC taking a proactive role to monitor compliance, too many of these blanket policies are going unchallenged with families often afraid to raise issues for fear of reprisals – including eviction.
This was a key change in the new guidance – finally recognising the role many relatives/friends play as a fundamental part of resident’s care. Sadly, as the guidance is not mandatory, many care homes are refusing to offer this type of contact. This leaves too many older people without the support of relatives/friends so important to their wellbeing.
“The new visiting policy in my wife’s care home makes no mention of individual assessments or the essential caregiver role. It allows visits only for 30 minutes which will be highly restricted because of the number of residents. I’m not impressed.” John, husband and R&RA helpline client
Last week we supported helpline callers in tears at the anguish of choosing which family member gets to see their loved one for a contact visit. How does a resident who has faced a year of isolation choose between seeing their husband or their daughter? The added ‘bonus’ of seeing more people via screen/window visits simply isn’t an option for the most vulnerable of residents for whom these visits are too distressing. And what about the visitors who are themselves older or disabled and can’t attend without the support of a family member?
Our helpline has heard of the restrictive rules placed on some relatives around visiting. From having to wash their hair before visiting, to taking a clean set of clothes to change into on site, many relatives have questioned whether staff are subject to the same rules to keep residents safe.
With many relatives/friends having their first meaningful visit in a year, our helpline has heard from people concerned about the decline in physical and mental health they have now seen first-hand. They have been disturbed by the significant weight loss, the visible pain and distress or loss of cognition. We are now supporting callers to pick up the pieces of a year of isolation and restart their role as family advocate, ensuring residents receive safe, quality care.
We continue to hear of residents only being given end of life visits right at the end of life, when they may already be unconscious. The Government’s plan to offer such visits to people in the final year of life simply isn’t becoming a reality for too many.
We continue to hear of problems with the rigid definition of an outbreak in the guidance, putting homes into lockdown for a month at a time. This can lead to perpetual, rolling lockdowns for some homes.
Of course, our helpline has also heard the heart-warming stories of families reuniting. Meaningful contact for the first time in a year has meant the first steps towards rekindling lost relationships, reigniting fading memories and reconnecting, albeit through latex gloves.
“Mum has lost so much of her cognitive function in the past 12 months. All the options open to me and my sisters previously (garden visits, booth visits and Skype) were simply a means to ‘view’ her. My contact visit last week brought me so much joy. Simply by being with her, having that physical touch and seeing her respond to what I was saying. At last, I felt I had reconnected with my mum and feel that on some level she would have felt that too during the visit.” Helen, Newcastle
We continue to campaign to End Isolation In Care.
Our summary of the visiting guidance and relevant legal duties is available here.
For support with any of the issues raised, contact our helpline here.