Originally published: 4 Dec 2020
Last updated: 15 June 2021
Visiting in care homes has been severely restricted during the pandemic. But indoor visiting is being slowly reintroduced. Care home residents are now able to spend more time with friends and family.
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. Thankfully, due to the ongoing successful vaccine rollout, restrictions have been slowly easing for care home residents in England since March 2021.
From June 21, residents will be able to spend time away from their care home with family and friends without needing to self-isolate on their return. Every resident can also nominate an 'Essential Care Giver' to provide additional support during visits.
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. On April 12, this was extended to two regular visitors. From 17 May, this increased to five named visitors, with a maximum of two visitors at any one time or on a given day.
Visitors 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 willu202fnot count as one of the visitors.
The 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.
Visits have not been permitted if there is an outbreak at a care home or the resident is self-isolating. However, from 21 June, the named 'Essential Care Giver' will be allowed to visit in these scenarios. The government says they will have access to the same PPE and testing supply as care home workers.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Care home residents will now be able to spend time out of the care home, such as visiting friends and family. From 21 June, they won't need to self-isolate on their return unless the visit is considered 'high-risk'.
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, 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 isolation rule means it was not practical for most residents to arrange indoor visits outside the care home. In May, the rules were updated 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 are not able to meet in groups and will only be able to go indoors to use the toilet.
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.
During the restrictions, new residents had to isolate their room for 14 days after arriving at the home. From June 21, people admitted to a care home from the community no longer have to self-isolate. Instead, residents will have to take a PCR covid test before they are admitted, a PCR test on the day of the admission and another PCR test seven days later.
But if a person is admitted from a hospital or another care home they will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
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.
The key points are:
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 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.
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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.