In a CHP exclusive, Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, Founder and Chairman Advinia Health Care, says the government must make enabling care home visits a top priority as we approach the Christmas period.
For eight long months, there have been restrictions on families visiting residents of care homes. Thousands of vulnerable older people have died, and since they are among those most at risk, it is right that we do all we can to protect them.
The government’s recent coronavirus winter plan for adult social care will make visiting relatives in care homes yet harder, particularly in areas where tier three lockdown measures have been imposed. Over 2,700 are either already closed to visitors or will be closed by local public health officials. In many cases, this includes socially distanced visits to windows and gardens.
One of our primary roles as care providers is to ensure that our residents are as safe as possible and we have shown that we can do this better and more economically than hospitals. The cost of an older person occupying an NHS bed is around £3,000 per week, even when they don’t need medical care. Care homes have had to provide the same level of care for, in some cases, just £500 per week. In spite of chronic underfunding, care homes remain much safer places to be than hospitals or even at home, where the risk of catching coronavirus or other, often worse, illnesses is significantly higher.
Social care is also a holistic service and is concerned with physical health alongside emotional wellbeing. We must not risk losing this balance. Putting a loved one into care is a difficult decision, but it is often a necessity. People should feel confident that their relatives will be able to live with dignity and that their individual needs will be met. The impact of limiting visits, rather like the crude lockdowns of entire chunks of the economy, may be causing more problems than it solves.
A recent Amnesty International report, As If Expendable, revealed how government decisions during the pandemic had violated the human rights of older people and highlighted the incredibly difficult position these decisions thrust care homes, residents and staff into. Part of this report, which calls for a full independent public inquiry into the effect of the pandemic on the care sector, explored the devastating and unacceptable impact of visiting restrictions and isolation on the physical and mental health of older people.
Around 300,000 residents and family members are currently affected by the new Department of Health and Social Care visitation policy, a number that will continue to rise. Older people who lose access to their families, particularly those with dementia, see a marked deterioration in their conditions and, in some cases, lose the will to live.
Again, rather like pub closures, there is no real scientific evidence that care home visits have been a significant factor in spreading infection.
It is certainly challenging to strike the right balance between allowing residents meaningful contact with families whilst managing infection risk. A zero-risk solution does not exist. However, people should not be subject to restrictions on their private and family life apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.
Though there is some leeway in the guidelines, they are confusing and failure to adhere to them precisely can lead to care homes being fined for failing to take proper precaution, losing insurance and eventually being closed down completely. This benefits no one.
The country needs better, less restrictive guidelines, where care homes are enabled to set their own policies for visits while ensuring the safety of residents, visitors and staff. We also need fast, regular and affordable testing for staff, residents and visitors. This should be even more a priority than developing new vaccines. The technology is available today.
Instead, we see the authorities constantly seeking to punish others– here the families of care home residents. As we approach the Christmas period, the government must make enabling visits a top priority and help bring families back together again.