The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has raised concerns about the impact of suspending care home visits on older people’s health, well-being and quality of life, and has called for renewed action to enable visits to continue with appropriate measures to ensure the safety of residents and staff.
With further local authorities in Wales heading into lockdown, the Commissioner has published a position statement, which sets out why face-to-face contact between older people living in care homes and their loved ones is so important, particularly for those who are most vulnerable, and why decisions around visiting should be taken on a case-by-case basis, rather than applying blanket decisions.
The Commissioner wants local authorities and public health officials to work with care providers to consider what steps could be taken to manage potential risks and enable visits to continue safely throughout Wales.
Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said:
“I can understand why local infection management teams want to take every precaution they think necessary to protect older people living in care homes, and why a blanket ban on visiting might seem appropriate under the current circumstances.
“However, given the significant and long-term impact that the suspension of visiting will have on the health and well-being of older people living in care homes, we must question whether this approach is proportionate and justified.
“It is crucial that the risks to residents and staff of potential Covid transmission due to visits are considered against the risk to older people living in care homes if their physical and mental health declines as a result of prolonged separation from those who mean most to them.
“By taking a more individualised approach, and assessing the risk for people and places on a case-by-case basis, there could be opportunities to enable visits where it has been assessed that potential risks to residents and staff could be managed, through measures such as the use of PPE, social distancing and hygiene measures, and holding visits in outdoor spaces.”
The position statement questions whether improved support for care homes and staff, increased testing, changes to care home environments, and recognising family members as ‘designated visitors’ – with access to testing, PPE and training – could ensure a more enabling approach that could allow visits to continue safely.
The Commissioner has also called on the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to consider what further support and guidance could be provided to care providers and local authorities to enable safe visiting.
The Commissioner added:
“I know that a huge amount of work was undertaken over the summer to support care home visits, and I want to thank care providers and public bodies for the efforts they made to reunite older people living in care homes with their loved ones.
“But as we enter a period of further uncertainty, many of the older people and family members I have spoken to are worried that they may never have an opportunity to spend time with their loved ones again.
“Whilst I welcome the fact that local authorities have confirmed that visits can go ahead where an older person is reaching the end of their life, it is essential that other visits can continue where risks to residents and staff can be managed effectively.
“As we navigate the difficult path ahead of us, it is crucial that people’s rights are protected, that they are involved in decisions that affect them, and that the decisions being made are fair and proportionate.
“By determining the ways we can work together to support a more enabling approach to care home visits, Wales has an opportunity to lead the way and demonstrate its compassion, solidarity and commitment to ensuring that people can remain connected to their loved ones. I know that delivering this is challenging, but it is something that should be a priority for us as a society.”