A rule forcing care home residents who go on any sort of outside visit to then spend two weeks in their room is being scrapped, the government announces today. Campaigners have hailed the reversal, with one group saying the regulation had turned “care homes into prisons”.
Under new guidance to begin from Tuesday, people living in care homes in England will not have to self-isolate if they leave the home to be in the garden of a relative or friend, or to visit outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches.
They must be accompanied by either a care worker or a named visitor, and must socially distance when away from the home. They cannot meet in groups, as currently permitted for others outside, and can go indoors only to use toilets.
The full guidance has not yet been set out, and could vary for areas with high or fast-rising levels of coronavirus infection, or the presence of variants of the virus being monitored by the government.
John’s Campaign, which pushes for better visiting rights, launched a legal challenge arguing that the mandatory self-isolation brought in three weeks ago, regardless of the age or health of the individual, was discriminatory and unlawful.
Nicci Gerrard from John’s Campaign said the change of stance, announced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), was “a chink of light for residents of care homes and their families, and a victor for all those people who have been eloquent in their campaign against the 14-day rule”.
She said: “But why did this rule ever exist in the first place – depriving people of their liberty, turning care homes into prison, treating one group of people with such cruelty?”
Helen Wildbore, the head of the Relatives and Residents Association, which also campaigned against the rule, said: “Older people in care will be glad to see the back of this unfair, arbitrary policy which left them behind in continued isolation whilst the rest of the country was free to get out and reconnect. We know from our helpline the damage quarantine is causing older people in care, including increased depression, distress, and confusion for those with dementia.”
The current DHSC guidance in effect acknowledged that the isolation rule meant “many residents will not wish to make a visit out of the home”, but argued that such trips meant the potential arrival of Covid-19 into a care home could not be properly managed.
Announcing the change of policy, the care minister, Helen Whately, said she accepted that residents and their families “have found the restrictions on trips out of care homes incredibly difficult”.
She said: “As part of this interim update before the next stage of the roadmap, care home residents will also be able to leave to spend time outdoors. I know this has been long-awaited for those who haven’t had a chance to enjoy trips out. I look forward to encouraging more visiting and trips out in future as we turn the tide on this cruel virus.”
One exemption for going indoors will be to allow care home residents who have not submitted a postal or proxy vote to go into a polling station to vote in person for local, mayoral and other elections next Thursday.
Prof Deborah Sturdy, England’s chief nurse for adult social care, said the change in the rules would be “hugely welcomed by many”, adding that according to the latest statistics, 95% of care home residents have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and 71%, their second.
Under rules amended last month, residents were allowed two nominated visitors to their home, but could not go out without having to self-isolate.
A statement released by law firm Leigh Day, who were helping John’s Campaign and other groups with the challenge, quoted the parents of a 30-year-old man with autism who lives in a home as saying they were unable to visit him because he did not understand why he could not go out with them, and became distressed.