Originally published: 4 Dec 2020
Last updated: 4 May 2021
Visiting in care homes has been severely restricted during the pandemic. But indoor visiting is being slowly reintroduced. From 12 April, each resident will be allowed two regular visitors.
Most people living in care homes have endured many months of limited contact with family and friends.
Where care home visits have been permitted, they have had to comply with strict ‘Covid-safe’ guidelines such as staying outside or being separated by a perspex screen. It has been an extremely difficult time for many families with older loved ones in residential care. But hope is on the horizon now that the first dose of a vaccine has been offered to all older residents at eligible care homes in England.
From 8 March, care home residents in England have been allowed one regular indoor visitor as part of the Prime Minister’s roadmap to ease lockdown. From April 12, as part of the next stage of the government’s lifting of lockdown restrictions, care home residents in England will be allowed a second regular visitor.
- Find out more: the COVID-19 vaccine – what it means for you
The new scheme will mean a visitor can finally hold hands with their relative or friend in a care home again.
The visitor will need to have a ‘rapid test’ for Covid-19 beforehand and wear PPE during the visit.
Hand-holding is allowed but named visitors will be asked to avoid any closer contact such as hugging. However, there is an exception for visitors who normally provide assistance with dressing, eating or washing who will be able to provide close-contact care.
Visitors who are parents will be able to bring babies and very young children along, who will not count as one of the visitors.
The new government guidance says it is not mandatory for the visitor to have received a first or second dose of a coronavirus jab before visiting – although it is strongly recommended that all visitors and residents take up the opportunity to be vaccinated when they are invited to do so through the national programme.
Although only two indoor visitor will be permitted per resident, care homes can continue to offer visits to other friends or family members with arrangements such as outdoor visiting, substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows.
If there is an outbreak at a care home, no visits will be allowed, except in exceptional circumstances such as end of life.
Rapid tests for care home visitors
The rapid tests, known as lateral flow tests, usually generate results in under half an hour. Visitors would need to contact the care home in advance to book in for a test. If they receive a negative test result, they would then be cleared to visit their loved one.
On 2 December 2020, the government announced plans to supply rapid turnaround coronavirus tests for all care home visitors across England in time for Christmas.
The new measures raised hopes that families would soon be able to resume regular visits with their loved ones in care homes. However, due to rapidly rising levels of COVID-19 infections, a new lockdown was announced for England on 4 January 2021 and all indoor care home visits were suspended.
The government has announced an additional £149 million to support rapid testing in care homes. However, arranging regular tests for a named visitor for each resident may still be a logistical challenge for many care homes. This means there may be delays or waiting lists at homes where there is a high demand for visiting slots.
Is it possible to visit a care home without having a COVID test?
Outdoor visiting and so-called ‘screened’ visits – which involve tighter restrictions – can be arranged for additional visitors who will not have been tested.
Some of the options suggested for screened 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.
Care homes should also facilitate visits where there are exceptional circumstances, such as a resident approaching the end of life.
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. This may now include taking a coronavirus test.
- 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.
Visits out of the care home
Care home residents will now be able to spend time out of the care home, such as visiting friends and family for special occasions.
But spending time with others outside the care home will increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for the resident and potentially to other vulnerable residents on their return. For this reason, the government guidance originally said any resident who is making a visit out of the care home must isolate for 14 days on their return to minimise the chances of passing on an infection to other residents and staff.
The rules were updated on Tuesday 4 May to allow care home residents to leave for ‘low-risk’ outdoor visits (such as going for a walk or to a loved one’s garden) without isolating for two weeks on their return. However, residents will not be able to meet in groups and will only be able to go indoors to use the toilet, or to cast their vote in the upcoming elections.
The isolation rule means it will not be practical for most residents to arrange indoor visits outside the care home. The government says the policy on visits out will be kept under review over the next few months as more data becomes available about the effectiveness of Covid vaccines and the infection level in the community.
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: Coping with coronavirus: practical guidance for older people
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
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This article was first published on 5 November 2020 and has been updated. The latest update was on 23 February to include new guidelines. Additional reporting by Natalie Healey.