‘A light at the end of the tunnel’: Care home owners and families welcome easing of restrictions on visitors

·4 min read
Boosted: 86.5 percent of care home residents have had their third jab  (PA)
Boosted: 86.5 percent of care home residents have had their third jab (PA)

Families and social care chiefs have hailed a “huge step forward” towards the end of the pandemic after the government announced the end of restrictions on visitors to care homes from Monday.

Limits on the number of people who can visit care homes will be eased from next week and self-isolation periods will also be cut for those who test positive for Covid-19.

If a care home discovers an outbreak of coronavirus (defined as two positive cases), they will only have to implement control measures for 14 days, and not 18.

Care home owners reacted positively to the news on Thursday, but warned that the changes would have to be made gradually. Family rights organisations expressed concern that, though the government’s guidance might be changing, homes could still enforce restrictive measures if they saw fit.

Jenny Morrison, co-founder of the Rights for Residents family group, said that she was worried care homes could get caught in a “rolling cycle of 14-day lockdowns” if Omicron was detected, and called on the government to reduce the period to five days to match the rest of the country. But she welcomed the news as a “huge step forward in restoring the human rights of those living in care homes”.

Diane Mayhew, also from the organisation, reacted to the news saying: “I could actually cry with relief”.

“The majority of care home residents have been triple vaccinated, we wear PPE, there is no reason whatsoever why this shouldn’t have happened sooner – and I couldn’t be happier,” she told BBC Breakfast.

Lucy Craig, managing director of three care homes in the North East of England, told The Independent: “The impact on my elderly resident’s mental health of the reduced social interaction, lack of family involvement, has been so detrimental to everybody that I would have had people coming back into the home months ago.

“Our lives changed when we were vaccinated and that happened months ago,” Ms Craig, who cares for people with dementia, said “isolation has crucified” her residents as they have been left without entertainment, social interaction, and stimulation.

Families will now have to re-establish connections with their loved ones, she said.

Jayne Connery, from family rights group Care Campaign for the Vulnerable, said she was scared care homes would not follow through on the guidance.

“We’re heartened to hear that they’ve cut down the isolation periods,” she said, but described the new announcement as “wishy-washy” and said: “We’re optimistically cautious but we are seeing an absolute lack of support from this government for the care sector.”

Beverly, 64, who didn’t want to give her last name, said her mother Betty’s care home told families yesterday that they would now be allowed one hour-long visit a week in a designated room in the home.

“When mum was first in there you could go in, sign the book, and wander around. That’s not the case anymore. You’ve got to book in advance; book an hour if you want a face-to-face visit and half-an-hour if you want to see people in a pod.”

She said the Staffordshire care home was struggling to fit all the families in for visits because of staff isolating.

Jane Roberts, owner of Rosebank care home in Bampton, Oxfordshire, felt more positive about the changes, saying: “It feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel, it really really does.”

She said her home would approach the new guidance “slowly and cautiously” but said that vaccinations have “changed the ball game”. Ms Roberts added: “I had five residents who were recently affected by Omicron and one of them was 100. She remained fit and well throughout it and you can’t get better than that.”

Mike Padgham, managing director of Saint Cecilia’s Care Group, said they would have to “manage the demand that comes from Monday onwards” by “staggering” family visits. He warned that staff levels were at the lowest he’d seen in three decades, saying: “We want to open up but we’re asking the public to be a little bit patient with us while we get into a routine.”

“We welcome the changes but really this just takes us back to where we were in November,” Helen Wildbore, from the Relatives and Residents Association, said. “We need a plan for when care home residents will no longer live under restrictions and when they will have the freedoms that the rest of the public have.”

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