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Coronavirus Read our latest advice

Can I visit a care home during the latest coronavirus lockdown?

During the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, most care home visits were halted. The government has pledged to help care homes to stay open to visits throughout the second lockdown in England.

Can I visit a care home during the latest coronavirus lockdown?

Despite the introduction of a new lockdown in England from 5 November, care home residents will still be allowed to receive visits from family and friends.

According to new guidance published by the government on 4 November, care homes will be encouraged to maintain ‘safe visiting opportunities’ during the lockdown.

However, visits will have to comply with ‘COVID-safe’ guidelines, including social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Visits to care homes can take place with arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, and window visits.

Care home visits during the new lockdown

Some of the options being suggested to ensure safe care home visits include:

  • Secure visiting ‘pods’ separated by floor-to-ceiling screens, with separate entrances for visitors and residents
  • ‘Window visits’, where visitors remain outside the building or even stay in their car
  • Outdoor visits in the home’s garden or grounds  – although it’s unclear how suitable these will be during this colder time of year
  • Virtual visits, using video calling technology.

Other measures the government says it is developing to keep care homes open include:

  • weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes
  • a scheme to give regular tests to family members or friends to enable them to visit care homes regularly.

In mid-November the government announced it was starting a trial of regular testing for visitors at around 12 care homes in the south of England. However, there is frustration within the social care sector that these additional measures were not implemented sooner.

The absence of a blanket ban on visiting will be welcomed by families who have been worried about loved ones becoming isolated in care homes. However, leading charities have raised concerns that the new guidelines may be too restrictive for many homes and inappropriate for some residents, especially those with dementia.

According to Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK: ‘In practice, we fear it will result in many care homes halting meaningful visiting altogether, because they will be unable to comply with the requirements.’

During the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, most face-to-face care home visits were banned in response to the global pandemic. Restrictions were relaxed in July to allow limited visiting. Despite this, visits have been frequently curtailed in parts of the country with the highest coronavirus infection rates.

Different guidelines apply for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How to safely visit a loved one in a care home

As long as the coronavirus pandemic continues,  you’ll need to take the following precautions if you’re planning to visit a care home:

  • Inform the care home in advance of visiting your loved one. The staff will tell you whether the visit can take place and what special measures they have put in place.
  • Expect to be given a specific visiting time slot with a time limit.
  • Wear a face covering and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you arrive.
  • Depending on the nature of your visit, you may need to wear further PPE such as gloves and an apron.
  • You should have no contact with any other resident and minimal contact with care home staff.
  • You won’t be able to visit if you are currently experiencing or have experienced coronavirus symptoms in the past seven days.
  • Staff may ask you questions about your own health and any potential contact you may have had with coronavirus before you can enter.

If you need help contacting a care provider, search for their details on our Care Services Directory.

What are the care home rules during the Christmas period?

After the UK exits lockdown on 2 December, different tiers of restrictions will apply in different parts of the country. Most people still won’t be able to socialise indoors. However, there will be slightly different rules over the Christmas period. From 23 December to 27 December, measures will be temporarily eased. Three households will be allowed to reunite in private homes and form a “Christmas bubble”.

However, these new rules won’t apply to care home residents. The government says only care home residents of working age (under 65) can leave their care home to form a bubble over Christmas – and this will have to be agreed in advance with the home. Plus, a care home resident who is under 65 may only form a bubble with one other household, rather than three.

That means older people in care homes will not be able to leave during the Christmas period due to the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus. However, the government says regular coronavirus testing will soon be offered to up to two family members or friends per resident. So if you test negative, wear appropriate PPE and follow other special measures the care home has put in place, it may be possible to hug your loved one indoors at Christmas. More detailed guidance on this issue is expected soon. We’ll keep updating this page with the latest advice.

Is my loved one safe in a care home?

Care homes are following government guidance to protect residents, including restrictions on external visitors, ramping up of hygiene procedures and extra training for staff.

  • 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 regularly for possible COVID-19 symptoms.
  • COVID-19 tests will be offered for staff members and residents in England whether they have symptoms or not. Homes should report any confirmed or possible cases to their local health protection team, who will provide advice and support to manage the outbreak.
  • Care homes will be provided with 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.

Find out more: Coronavirus: how to protect yourself and others

Find out more: Coronavirus: how families and friends can support older loved ones.

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.

The government has pledged to arrange coronavirus tests for all new residents. And new residents can expect to be isolated in their room for at least seven days after arriving at the home (extended to 14 days during the national lockdown from 5 November 2020).

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.

The key points are:

  • Reducing social contact: reducing the number of people that vulnerable people will come into contact with and reducing contact between staff.
  • PPE: all home care staff should use personal protective equipment to keep staff and patients safe.
  • Testing: all social care workers and individuals receiving home care are eligible for testing whether they have symptoms or not.
  • Close coordination with local authorities and NHS: care agencies should cooperate closely with local authorities and health services 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 is available in the home.

Find out more: How to arrange care at home

Which? advice on coronavirus

Experts from across Which? have advice on everything from staying safe and keeping in touch with loved ones to travel insurance rights and saving money on your household bills. Click to see all the latest coronavirus advice and news from Which?.

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