Relatives & Residents Association

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End isolation in care

The continued isolation of older people in care is putting their human rights at risk. Seven 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 make visiting impossible for some families. For some, the guidance has taken them backwards, resulting in more restrictions on their contact, creating further anxiety and distress for families at such a challenging time. As cases spike in some parts of the country, many care homes have been asked to suspend non-essential visits.

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

As the rest of the country re-emerges from lockdown and adjusts to a ‘new normal’, 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 carers providing crucial practical/emotional support, helping to ensure their relatives’ rights are protected, should be seen as a vital part of the care team
  • Single, constant visitor: this should be removed from the guidance, it is inhumane, impractical and creates painful decisions for families
  • Time limits on visits: make clear that these are not required, they have made visiting too distressing and impractical for many
  • Regular testing: this must be made available for visitors, as well as residents and staff
  • Privacy: stipulate that staff shouldn’t ‘chaperone’ visits (except in exceptional situations such as safeguarding)
  • Group decisions: rather than encouraging blanket policies, putting people’s rights at risk, decisions 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’.

Care homes asked to go into local or temporary lockdown need clarity on what is a ‘non-essential visit’. Individual needs and risk assessments should identify ‘essential’ family carers; providing support which helps ensure resident’s rights are protected. Such family carers should be subject to the same safety measures as staff, including regular testing and appropriate PPE.

“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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