Care home residents in England will be allowed to receive two regular visitors from Monday 12 April, as Covid restrictions are eased further, Boris Johnson is to announce.
Strict Department of Health guidance has severely curtailed the contact residents have had with their loved ones during the pandemic. Only one named visitor is currently permitted.
Under guidance to be published next week, two people will be allowed to visit regularly, as long as they have a negative Covid test result. They will have to wear protective equipment, but will be allowed to hold their loved one’s hand.
Babies and children under the age of two will be excluded from the limit, so that elderly residents can meet new grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
The prime minister said: “Reuniting family and friends has been a priority each time restrictions have eased, and the next step will be no different.
“I’m particularly pleased to allow residents to have more visitors, including grandchildren, given the isolation and concern felt by so many this past year.”
Care homes were hit particularly hard during the first wave of the virus.
A damning report from the cross-party public accounts committee of MPs in February highlighted dire shortages of PPE for care staff, and the fact that 25,000 people were discharged back into residential homes from hospitals in the first wave, some without being tested for the virus.
The government is guaranteeing it will continue to provide free personal protective equipment to care homes until March next year.
Almost 94% of care home residents have received at least the first dose of a vaccine, as have almost 78% of care staff. The government is considering plans to make the jab compulsory for staff, with an announcement expected in the coming days.
Unions have warned against such a move, saying it could be discriminatory, urging employers to focus instead on encouraging their staff to be vaccinated.
Fiona Carragher, the director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, welcomed the change in the visiting rules.
“Visits are vital to care home residents with dementia, who have been isolated from their loved ones, without the essential care and support their families so often provide, and as a result experienced a devastating increase in their dementia symptoms over the past year,” she said.
“We’ve come a long way since the first lockdown, and soon we hope to see the benefits from people with dementia being reunited with their loved ones.”
Liz Kendall MP, the shadow care minister, said: “Families are absolutely crucial for the physical and mental health of care home residents, and as infection rates in care homes continue to fall it is important that residents are able to reunite with family members as soon as possible.
“However, this guidance will not be enough for those care home residents who are still unable to receive visits from their loved ones. To have any confidence that things are really changing, we need legislation to enshrine residents’ rights to visits and end the scandal of blanket visiting bans.”