Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Homes Group (ICG), argues that the restrictions on the ability of friends and family to visit their loved ones in care and nursing homes in the UK has proven "exceedingly difficult and distressing" for all those concerned. He says that the government is aware of the problem but that their proposed solutions to not match the nature and scale of the problem.
Sputnik: Why are you calling for the UK government to ensure people can visit residents in care homes?
Mike Padgham: Due to the risk of COVID-19 entering care and nursing homes, at the first lockdown, the advice was to prevent all but vital visits by relatives. Some had even begun this policy before lockdown. That means that many residents will not have seen their family and friends for more than six months, which is exceedingly difficult and distressing for both the residents and their loved ones.
It is particularly harmful for people with dementia who may not understand why contact has stopped and will be suffering mental health issues as a result. That is why it is vital that we find a way to enable visitors to be able to see their family and friends in care and nursing homes as a matter of urgency.
Mike Padgham: Of course, with any contact, there will be a level of risk. But it is our view that if a single, nominated relative or friend is regularly tested and is negative, and wears full personal protective equipment (PPE) they can be regarded as a keyworker in a home. Provided they wear that PPE, observe careful hygiene requirements and social distancing procedures they should be able to enjoy visits as safely as possible.
Sputnik: Is the position of residents and family members in line with requests being made by service providers?
Mike Padgham: In my view, most care providers do want to reintroduce visiting. They appreciate that the separation of residents from their family and friends cannot go on any longer. At the same time, they are very keen to ensure that any visiting system balances contact with careful safety for all residents and staff too.
Sputnik: What has the government's response been thus far?
Mike Padgham: Today (Thursday, 5 November 2020) the Government published new guidance for visiting in care and nursing homes as follows:
Options for safe care home visits in line with the guidance could include:
- Visits using COVID-19-secure visiting areas/pods with floor to ceiling screens and windows where the visitor and resident enter through different entrances, are separated by screens and visitors do not need to enter or pass through the care home;
- Visits at windows, where the visitor doesn’t need to come inside the care home or where the visitor remains in their car, and the resident is socially distanced;
- Outdoor visits with one other person - visitors can meet outside with a loved one, in areas which can be accessed without anyone going through a shared building and;
- Further support for virtual visits, encouraging the use of video calls.
Whilst this is welcome recognition of the issue, it doesn’t go far enough. We have called for a designated relative or friend to be tested regularly and, provided they remained negative and wore full PPE and observed full hygiene and social distance procedures, be allowed to visit. The Government outlined plans for a pilot scheme along those lines, but it has not yet begun. It was referred to in today’s announcement as starting later this month. Our argument is that there is no need for a pilot scheme and that the Government should press ahead with allowing such a system to be allowed. We believe residents have been separated from family and friends for too long.
The Government guidelines would also pose a significant financial burden on providers, not least the cost of creating visiting pods or floor to ceiling screens. There is no extra financial support to cope with this being offered by the Government to providers, who are already struggling financially because of the pandemic.
Mike Padgham: If a person dies from COVID-19 in a care setting there is a risk to the care provider that they might be sued by a relative for allowing this to happen. We are asking the Government to indemnify care providers against such legal action, which could be devastating for the provider. NHS care providers already enjoy such indemnity, and we are seeking parity with them over COVID-19 care provision.
Sputnik: Does it really make sense to indemnify a care home or nursing home from liability even if they aren't taking the necessary precautions to protect their staff and residents?
We would have to assume that homes are taking the necessary precautions to protect their residents and any indemnity would be based upon that assumption.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.