Last updated 18 May 2020:
The government has announced new plans to protect the safety of care home residents, staff and other care providers during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).
There have been almost 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 in UK care homes, according to the Office for National Statistics. While the number of coronavirus deaths in care homes has started to fall, if you have a loved one who receives residential care you may be understandably worried. Here’s what is being done to ensure their safety.
What is happening in care homes?
The government still recommends that care homes restrict all non-essential visits. Here are some of the other key measures that homes should be taking to protect residents during the crisis:
- Care homes should follow social distancing, wherever possible, and observe ‘shielding’ measures for residents who are extremely vulnerable.
- Care homes should restrict all non-essential healthcare visits and reduce staff movement between homes.
- Staff and residents should be monitored daily for possible COVID-19 symptoms. Ideally each resident should be assessed twice daily for signs of fever, a cough or shortness of breath.
- COVID-19 tests will be offered for staff members and residents in England whether they have symptoms or not.
- Care homes will be provided with extensive guidance on deep cleaning and how to prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Residents who have symptoms should be isolated in a single room with a separate bathroom, where possible.
- Homes should report any confirmed or possible cases to their local health protection team, who will provide advice and support to manage the outbreak.
Will my loved one be safe in a care home?
Most care homes have introduced rigorous measures to protect residents, including restrictions on external visitors, ramping up of hygiene procedures and extra training for staff. Many brought in these measures before the government recommended them. In some cases staff have even moved into homes full-time to provide regular care for residents and limit the risk of the virus being brought in from outside.
Despite these efforts, there have been a growing number of coronavirus cases reported in care homes, involving both staff and residents. This will obviously cause concern for anyone with a loved one in a care home.
Most care homes these days have single rooms and separate bathrooms, which will help them to manage the situation should any residents require a period of isolation. Care homes should also have well-established hygiene routines and will be well placed to carry out any necessary infection-control measures.
Care homes will also be in close communication with local NHS and council services to ensure that vital medical support and other help will be available when needed.
Find out more: Coronavirus: how to protect yourself and others
Coronavirus guidelines for care homes
On 11 May the government announced further plans to reduce coronavirus outbreaks in care homes, protect residents and care staff, and support care providers.
Many elements of the plan were already covered by previous government guidelines, but it did contain some important new commitments for social care:
Personal protective equipment (PPE): the government pledged to ensure care homes and care providers get an adequate supply of suitable PPE through a new national network. This has increasingly become a critical issue, with many care providers reporting difficulties in getting enough masks, gloves and other equipment to keep their staff and clients safe.
More testing: the government promised to ramp up coronavirus testing for care homes. All care home staff and residents in England are now eligible for testing whether they have symptoms or not. The government subsequently pledged that all care home staff and residents would be tested for coronavirus by early June.
Visits to dying relatives: while the government continues to recommend that care homes restrict unnecessary visits, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, stressed that close family members should be allowed to visit dying residents to say goodbye, whenever possible. Also, residents who need it should still be provided with adequate end of life care, including palliative care.
Staff shortages: the government has launched a national recruitment campaign with the goal of attracting thousands of new social care staff.
Clinical support: An NHS package of support for care homes planned for October 2020 is being brought forward due to the pandemic. This will include a weekly virtual GP check-up to review residents who have been identified as a clinical priority, including those who may have the virus. The NHS is supporting care homes to take up video consultations. GPs have been told this programme should be in place by 15 May.
Read the plan for protecting care homes for more details.
Can I still visit my loved one in a care home?
Government guidelines state that family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes. To safeguard the health of residents and staff, most care home providers have suspended all non-essential visits, including visits by friends and family. Exceptions include medical visits and some special circumstances, such as when a resident is nearing the end of their life.
If you have an important reason to see someone in a care home, contact the home in advance before attempting to visit. The care home manager will decide whether your visit is essential. Don’t attempt to visit if you feel unwell, however mild.
Talk to the care home about other ways you can keep in touch with your loved one, such as phone calls and video chats. Many homes have set up Facebook or WhatsApp groups to keep in contact with families and friends.
If you need help contacting a care provider, search for their details on our Care Services Directory.
What to expect if you visit a care home
If you are going to a care home for an essential reason, there are some safety measures to be aware of.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before going to the home and use the hand sanitiser provided on arrival.
- Staff may ask you some questions about your own health and any potential contact you may have had with coronavirus before you can enter.
- Some homes will check your temperature on arrival to ensure you’re not showing signs of a fever.
- Cover your mouth and nose if you happen to sneeze or cough unexpectedly, and bring a supply of tissues with you to help with this.
- Visitors may be limited to one at a time. They should visit the resident in their own room and leave immediately after the visit.
Are care homes still accepting new residents?
The latest guidelines allow care homes to accept new residents – and they are encouraged to do so – as long as they follow strict procedures agreed with local NHS authorities and their local council.
In its new action plan the government has pledged to arrange coronavirus tests for all new residents.
Any new residents can expect to be isolated in their room for a period of at least 7 days after arriving at the home.
Despite this, some homes may feel that they are not currently equipped to take on new residents. If you are looking for a care home, check with individual providers on their current policy.
Home care guidance
Many older people, especially those living alone, rely on support provided in their own home by home care agencies. The government has issued guidance to home care providers to help them maintain delivery of vital care services.
Home care agencies have been asked to ensure they keep all information about their clients up to date, including details of any additional support that may be available to individuals from family or friends. They have been asked to share this information with local health partners, if required. Care agencies should also cooperate closely with local authorities and health services so that resources can be shared locally, if necessary, to ensure that care needs for the most vulnerable can continue to be met.
If your loved one receives support from a home care agency, contact the company to find out what safety measures and contingency plans they have in place. If you employ private care workers to support your loved one, make sure they understand and follow strict hygiene routines, as recommended by the NHS. Also ensure that an adequate supply of soap, towels and other hygiene products are available in the home.
If you’re concerned about a loved one’s safety at home and would like to arrange extra support, read our advice on how to arrange care at home.
Which? advice on coronavirus
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This story was originally published on 18 March and is being regularly updated with the latest developments.