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Care homes in England have been given the go-ahead to reopen to visitors if they can meet conditions laid out in new coronavirus guidance.
The government announced today that family and friends will be able to once again visit their loved ones in social care settings, as lockdown restrictions continue to ease.
“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes”
However, decisions on reopening care homes to visitors will be made locally by council directors of public health based on risk assessments.
They will have to take into account Covid-19 infection rates in their area, the situation in the individual care home, and other factors set out in the government guidance.
Visitors will have to wear face coverings and other personal protective equipment where required.
More on care homes and Covid-19:
The government also advised that, where possible, visits should be limited to a “single constant visitor” per resident, to control footfall in care homes and the consequent risk of infection.
Visits should take place in an outdoor space at the care home if it was available, said the guidance.
Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, said: “I know how painful it has been for those in care homes not being able to receive visits from their loved ones throughout this period.
“We are now able to carefully and safely allow visits to care homes, which will be based on local knowledge and circumstances for each care home.
“It is really important that we don’t undo all of the hard work of care homes over the last few months while ensuring families and friends can be safely reunited so we have put in place guidance that protects everyone.”
Care homes will also be asked to keep records of visitors and utilise the NHS Test and Trace service in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak.
The guidance also recommended visits being allocated through a booking and appointment system, rather than on an ad hoc basis.
“People need people and this is such an important step for the wellbeing of individuals and their relatives”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents many care home providers, said the guidance fell short and had come too late.
For example, he noted that the government failed to give advice on taking residents on a day out away from the home.
“Also, we need to look beyond outdoor visits and recognise that these new conditions may be with us for quite some time,” added Professor Green.
“The failure to acknowledge this nuance underscores the lack of governmental understanding of the complexities present within the adult social care sector.”
Lisa Lenton, chair of the Care Providers Alliance (CPA), described the guidance as being “overdue”.
She said the CPA had been “calling for government guidance for many weeks and released its own visitors’ protocol last month in its absence”.
“People need people and this is such an important step for the wellbeing of individuals and their relatives,” she added.
Meanwhile, Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the news that visitors would be allowed to care homes again would be a “huge relief” to families.
“It’s vital that local decision makers now work with care homes to make visits possible, while ensuring everyone is kept safe, to finally reunite thousands of autistic people with their families,” she added.