Care home residents in England will be allowed to receive indoor visits from one person from 8 March as lockdown restrictions start to be eased, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said. The announcement came after a growing campaign by families and residents to be able to see their relatives.
How have care homes and their residents been hit by the coronavirus pandemic?
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics and official sources in Scotland and Northern Ireland for the week to 8 January more than 25,000 people have died from Covid in care homes across the UK since the start of the pandemic.
The number of care home residents who have succumbed to Covid is more than 6,000 higher once deaths after residents were admitted to hospital are taken into account, taking the figure past 30,000.
Care home residents have accounted for almost a third of the total number of coronavirus deaths in England and Wales, according to the ONS.
The ONS figures also showed that about four in 10 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 15 January involved coronavirus – the highest proportion recorded during the pandemic.
Have care homes been closed to visitors during the pandemic?
All face-to-face visits in care homes were banned during the first national lockdown in March when coronavirus swept through care homes.
Government guidance during the third lockdown, which started on 6 January, said: “Visiting should be supported and enabled wherever it is possible to do so safely – in line with this guidance and within a care home environment that takes proportionate steps to manage risks.”
But many care homes have remained shut to all but end-of-life visits in an attempt to keep out new fast-spreading Covid variants.
The government pledged on 1 December that care home residents in all tiers would have the opportunity to receive visits before Christmas. In-person visits should be the norm, it said, unless a home has had an outbreak.
But in December Age UK said care homes were not honouring government calls for families to be reunited with loved ones in time for Christmas, saying that progress on enabling visits had stalled, with some care homes worried about insurance issues and concerns about the accuracy of rapid-result Covid tests.
What have families been calling for?
In February the families of people in care homes demanded a restart to essential visiting by 1 March declaring it “a matter of safety, common decency, and fundamental human rights”.
The campaign and support groups Rights for Residents, the Relatives and Residents Association and John’s Campaign urged ministers to allow residents to select an essential caregiver to make in-person visits indoors and without screens within weeks. They cited falling rates of Covid transmission in the community and the need to balance the risk from the virus with the risk of isolation and lack of connection.
Who else has called for care homes to be reopened?
Earlier in February a parliamentary human rights committee called on ministers to legislate against blanket bans on care home visits in England that relatives claim are causing deaths through loneliness and isolation.
What have care operators said?
Many care operators have said that it may be too soon to open, pointing to high infection rates and the fact that second vaccination doses are yet to be administered to many vulnerable elderly people. They also say many cannot get insurance cover for Covid risks, including infection being introduced by visitors.