Urgent action is required from the government to provide greater support for care home visits. Just over a week ago ministers were keen to spread the message that care homes would be able to open their doors to relatives. New guidance would ensure that visits could take place - even during the impending lockdown. Much was made of a proposed trial, in which one relative would be designated as a key visitor who could be subject to regular testing, and given appropriate training and PPE to support safe visits.
Having raised expectations, the government guidance does nothing of the sort leaving care homes once again to face all of the risks associated with visits alone and to explain to distraught relatives when visits cannot take place. Significantly, the guidance makes clear that local directors of public health will have a right to overrule care providers who want to allow visits to take place.
The guidance comes at a time when care home providers are even more exposed in relation to the potential risks. Faced with an uncertain picture in relation to the potential for Covid-19 related claims, the insurance market has begun to withdraw cover for Public Lability claims arising from infections. As a result, many providers are left to consider the financial implications of potential claims made by residents or visitors in the event of an outbreak.
Compliance with national guidance is likely be a significant factor in the outcome of any later claims and legal challenges. The present guidance does little to provide care homes with the support and protection that they need. A clear picture is emerging that allowing visits is important not only to residents' mental wellbeing but also to their physical health. If the government truly wants to support care home providers, the guidance must place greater emphasis on the need for visits to take place, to reduce the regulatory risks and take urgent steps to provide the same indemnity to social care providers that is afforded to the NHS for Covid-19 related claims.
Care home residents in England face a postcode lottery over visiting because ministers have abdicated responsibility to local officials, according to social care bosses. Thousands of elderly people are still unable to have face-to-face contact with relatives despite guidance from health secretary Matt Hancock last week encouraging operators to allow visitors.