BGS responds to care home visiting guidance

10 November 2020

The BGS welcomes new guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about managing visitors for care home residents during the current period of national restrictions in England. Support to enable care home visiting is a key part of our #BGSFairCare campaign and we are pleased that efforts are being made to address the detrimental effect on care home residents’ mental and physical health caused by loss of contact with their loved ones, as happened in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand the challenges in balancing infection control with the needs of care home residents to see their families.

However, we are concerned that this guidance only allows for visiting under restrictive circumstances which may cause additional distress. For example, the guidance states that visiting must take place through screens or windows. The distress that may be caused to residents through window visits or visits involving a plastic screen, especially those with dementia or cognitive impairments, should be recognised. In addition, as winter approaches, it is not practical for visitors to remain outdoors for visits, especially as some visitors may be older and vulnerable themselves.  

The guidance may also be challenging for care homes to put into practice as they are required to implement increased cleaning between visits, provide individualised visiting plans and install floor to ceiling plastic screens in visiting spaces. This is considerable additional pressure on care homes at a time when they are facing the challenges brought about by managing the second wave of the pandemic.

We believe that visiting could be opened up in less restrictive ways and that DHSC should work with the care home sector to explore these options. This should include provision of testing for a designated family member, as part of their being considered to have ‘key worker’ status. Point of care testing in care homes has shown some promise and, if adequate investment is secured for roll-out, this may represent the most effective way to enable closer visiting between residents and their families.

The coming weeks of lockdown will be challenging for care home staff as they work to balance the need to protect their residents from COVID-19 with the need for older people to have contact with their loved ones. We urge the Government to ensure that care homes have access to clear advice and funding to enable them to implement safe and practical arrangements for visiting that minimise distress and ensure the wellbeing of care home residents.