Visiting is an important part of care home life.

But with winter coming and a second wave on the horizon, there are concerns about the future.

The DHSC recently launched its Social Care Covid-19 winter plan, in it, are revised measures regarding visiting. While it doesn’t outright ban all visiting in care homes, it comes close to doing so.

The Social Care Winter Plan

Care homes in local authority areas named by Public Health England for wider anti-Covid interventions must immediately move to stop visiting. Here, residents and their immediate families, find themselves split apart from their loved ones without warning, and without consultation.

Many people are worried, and rightly so. It is estimated that 300,000 residents and family members are already affected by the policy; a similar number to the population of Brighton.

Blanket bans and their detrimental effect

Executive Director of the National Care Forum, Vic Rayner and the Charity Director of Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, have spoken out about the ill effects of blanket bans and the need for a new approach.

In their joint blog, Visiting in Care Homes: Where Next? they argue that risk should be individually assessed for both people and places.

Assessing risk

Of course, being cautious is to be expected after the year we’ve had. Ensuring people’s safety is of utmost importance, however, is a blanket ban the best way to go about this? They say no, and for a number of reasons.

One being the distinct lack of evidence of the risk visiting has on spreading infection, when it’s carefully managed.

They also point out that official guidance says people can be discharged from hospital and into a care home without having a test for coronavirus, yet it is carefully managed visits from loved ones which should stop?!

Not just one type of risk

The risk of visiting contributing to spreading the infection is not the only risk that has to be managed here, though it’s the one we have the metrics to count. The other risk, which is very significant for many older people living in care homes, is that their physical and mental health significantly declines as a result of a prolonged lack of connection with those who mean most to them. It is this very delicate balancing act that homes, in partnership with relatives, have been negotiating in recent months.

Click here to read Visiting in Care Homes: Where Next, and view their recommendations

So what is it like for residents and families?

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has impacted on people’s mental health. People in care homes and mental health hospitals find themselves cut off from the outside world during the pandemic, much like the elderly during strict lockdown. Loneliness takes its toll.

Petitions are in circulation to try and end the isolation lack of visiting causes.

A brighter note

There are many examples in the social care sector of homes coming up with innovative ways to keep residents and families connected. Whether this is support and help to keep people connected digitally like initiatives at Borough Care, or special visiting pods to help residents see their loved ones like Glebe Housing.

You can see more great examples of how care teams are going above and beyond in the face of Covid-19 by following #HereToCare on social media. This hashtag profiles NCF’s Here To Care Campaign, and the amazing work staff, carers and care providers are doing.

Visiting is a time both residents and relatives cherish; It is also something that stimulates and brings pleasure to people living in a home. Visiting is important. If you are affected by visiting restrictions, want to know your rights, or are looking for support these sites may help:

Relatives and Residents Association

Independent Age

Age UK