The government announcement on 22nd July that care homes in England could start preparing to allow visitors again, will have been welcome news to families who have been separated from their loved ones during lockdown. Visits to relatives in care homes were halted back in March as part of efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The last few months have been a worrying time for families with relatives in care homes as the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions, fall into the groups most at risk from Covid-19. Any form of separation from our families is likely to cause anxiety and stress but, add in the additional worry and concern about the safety of those in care homes due to the virus, and it’s not surprising that families with relatives in care homes have experienced such a difficult few months.

The absence of visits from family members has also posed additional challenges for those residents with memory issues and dementia. Many families have raised their concerns about how a prolonged period of separation from loved ones will have impacted dementia sufferers. Although families have kept in touch with care home residents via phone calls and video chats, naturally there is concern that the loss of face to face visits for such a long period could make it challenging for residents with pre-existing memory issues when they are reunited with their families.

When exactly will care homes be opening to visitors again?
Dates are likely to vary between individual areas and care homes, depending on their circumstances and any local outbreaks of the virus, and risk assessments will need to take place before homes can reopen, the government guidance states. The guidance also says that the local authority and director of public health, will need to assess suitability before giving the go ahead for visits to care homes. If you are unsure it is worth contacting the specific care home that you would like to visit and asking them about their individual circumstances.

How will visits be different?
Visits to care homes will most definitely seem very different to what we have been used to in the past. Just as shopping and routine appointments have altered, so will visits to relatives in care homes. It is important to remember that keeping everyone safe is at the heart of any guidance that is issued. Social distancing will need to be adhered to and hugs and handshakes should be avoided. The guidance issued by the government states that visitor numbers should be limited to one constant visitor for each resident, to help reduce the total number of visitors to the home, and it suggests that visits take place outdoors if possible, for example in communal gardens. The guidance also recommends that visits to care home are booked in advance, so unplanned visits will not be possible, and track and trace needs to be in place.

Will I need to wear a face covering?
Absolutely. The government guidance says that visitors should be supported in wearing a face covering and that visitors may also need additional PPE. The guidance also states that visitors should wash their hands on arriving and leaving the home and before putting on and taking off their face covering.

What else can I do to help keep everyone safe?
As well as wearing a face covering and washing your hands frequently, make sure that you do not visit a care home if you are feeling unwell or experiencing any symptoms. The government guidance suggests that care homes screen visitors for symptoms upon arrival and provide temperature checks for visitors. If you are thinking of bringing a gift for your loved one, the guidance recommends that it is something that can be easily sanitised.

The news that visits to care homes can begin to restart in England is certainly the piece of good news that residents and families have been waiting months for. It’s been a challenging time for everyone in the care sector and there will be lots of joyful reunions to look forward to in the next few weeks. If you have a relative residing in a care home and would like to find out more about our advocacy service, take a look at the Services page of our website or drop us an email to see how we can help.