An MPs committee has called for a new law to end blanket bans on care home visits.
In a letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, highlighted the impact of a long lockdown on those in care homes, hospitals and prisons.
The letter states: “As we set out in our report last year, blanket visiting bans are contrary to the rights of both patients and their families under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Code of Practice to the Mental Health Act 1983, and NHS England guidance.
“Failure to adopt an individualised approach to the safety of visits risks breaching the right of patients, residents and their families to family life (Article 8 ECHR).”
The letter follows the committee’s hearing of evidence from care home relatives who expressed the severe emotional toll that separation had caused them and their loved ones.
Alexis Quinn who represents Rightful Lives and is an autistic woman who has experience of being in mental health detention, said: “It can literally be the difference between having the will to live and wanting to give up. It can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.”
The MPs letter says there is an “urgent need for legislation to require that individualised risk assessments are done in relation to each resident or patient, and to ensure that procedures are in place so that such assessments can be queried where they have omitted relevant factors or not made adequate efforts to consider how COVID-safe visits might best be facilitated”.
The call was welcomed by the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA), who gave evidence during the Committee hearing.
Helen Wildbore, director of the R&RA, said: “The new law would be a clear and strong direction from Parliament that facilitating meaningful contact with family/friends is fundamental to providing good care, during the pandemic and beyond. Individual assessments are not an optional extra, they are essential to protecting residents’ rights. This change would support care providers to meet their duties under the Human Rights Act and help to end the human rights crisis in care. We urge the Government to take forward this new law before it is too late for too many more older people.”
A government spokesperson said: “We know visits to care homes are crucial in supporting the health and wellbeing of residents, which is why we have updated guidance to ensure visits can continue to take place safely during periods of national lockdown.
“The government is looking to ensure that a wider range of visiting arrangements are made available for care home residents when it is safe to do so.”