Updated 20 January:
Older people in care have faced eleven months of isolation. This is having dire and tragic consequences and putting their human rights at risk. As coronavirus cases across England rise and we are under a third national lockdown, updated Government guidance takes us back to prison-like visits behind screens/pods/at windows.
Whilst the guidance sets out the ‘default position’ that visits should be facilitated and makes clear that visiting policies must be based on individual assessments, our helpline continues to hear of blanket approaches being applied. Some local authorities and care providers are instructing homes to close, even for the most basic visits with minimal risk such as at windows.
Residents and their families feel abandoned. Callers to our helpline are exasperated by the emotional roller coaster, being promised meaningful visits before Christmas, which for many didn’t materialise. For many, visiting is not just about the social element (important as that is). Many family/friends play a vital role in helping protect the well-being of residents, from help with eating, to relieving the distress of dementia. We hear daily from callers to the 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’.
Protecting care users and staff from the virus is of upmost importance. But almost a year of isolation has created another risk to the well-being of older people living in care. Care homes need to manage both the risk to well-being from isolation and the risk posed by the virus via individual assessments. We are calling for essential visitors – providing crucial practical or emotional support – to be granted safe access, to ensure residents rights are respected. Such visitors should be subject to the same safety precautions as staff (testing, appropriate PPE, access to vaccines) so they are seen as a vital part of the care team. With the vaccines being rolled out, the Government urgently needs to publish a clear strategy for how visits can be resumed once protection is provided.
Time is of the essence. The average length of stay in a care home is just over two years. After almost a year of restrictions, the Government, local authorities and care providers must act; they cannot ignore the human rights crisis unfolding in care. The prospect of a long winter of continued isolation could have catastrophic consequences for older people.
We need your help to End Isolation In Care:
Please let us know what action you take and keep us updated on any progress: email@example.com
If you would like further information or advice on how this applies to you or your relative/friend, please get in touch with the R&RA Helpline. We can help you to explore what the guidance means for your family, and support you to use the law to negotiate with a care home for better contact.