Care homes face being “vilified” if they are forced to allow in visitors under new plans being considered by the government, ministers have been told.
The care minister Helen Whately said stopping relatives from visiting loved ones in care homes as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 showed “a lack of humanity”. Legislation is being planned to give care home residents and hospital patients the legal right to see guests, according to the Times, prompting fury from the care sector.
Nadra Ahmed, the chair of the National Care Association, said she was “really disappointed” and blamed staff shortages and a lack of funding for not being able to allow all visitors.
“I think it’s really disappointing that we’re looking at another piece of legislation in relation to the care home sector,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “And I think it will be really important for people to understand that we’re probably one of the most legislated against parts of the sector.”
She added: “We’re trying to do the very, very best that we can and to be vilified in this way when we’re trying our very best. The government needs to be concentrating … on funding the sector properly so that we can do everything we possibly can.”
While official visiting restrictions in England have been lifted, some care homes and hospitals are refusing to allow visitors or are imposing stringent Covid-19 conditions. One care home has even stopped phone calls between residents and loved ones for fear that handsets could get infected.
Nicci Gerrard, the co-founder of the John’s Campaign charity, said those with special needs such as dementia should have the right to be accompanied by their essential caregiver “wherever they go”.
She told the Today programme: “There are lots of complicated things around the edges, but at the centre there’s this clear message that people should not be separated from those that they love during times of their greatest need.
“And Covid has shown why that needs to be enshrined in law. It’s very easy to sweep away these human rights.”
Whately told of her own frustration at the current restrictions imposed on some care home residents.
“The darkest days of the pandemic are thankfully behind us but I’m still hearing from families [who are] being stopped from visiting loved ones,” she said.
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“I know how it feels. I didn’t know if I would see my mum alive again when she was very ill in hospital in the summer. I remember well the feelings I had at the time – grief mixed with frustration and even anger at a system that seemed to lack humanity.”
It is not yet clear how the government plans to bring in new laws, but it could take the form of secondary legislation forcing the Care Quality Commission to inspect visiting policies when rating care homes or hospitals.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our guidance clearly states that residents in care homes should be able to have at least one visitor in all situations. We urge all trusts and care homes to follow the guidance and ensure they are facilitating these visits, which play a crucial role in the wellbeing and care of patients and residents.”