'These changes will have an undeniably positive effect': How care home visits have changed as country enjoys new freedoms
Life may seem to be returning to normal for many following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, but vulnerable residents in care homes are still facing restrictions when seeing their loved ones.
Care homes have faced ever-changing rules and guidance throughout the pandemic, in a bid to keep vulnerable elderly residents safe from Covid-19.
And residents are now no longer forced to choose between which of their loved ones can visit them, as the recent change in government guidance no longer imposes restrictions on the number of 'named' visitors allowed in homes.
Loved ones were able to finally see their elderly relatives for the first time since the start of the Covid outbreak in March this year, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for one 'nominated' visitor to go inside care homes providing they had a clear negative test.
But as the country prepares to return normal and many wave goodbye to mask-wearing, care home guidance was updated again and still remains somewhat limited when facilitating visits, as wearing PPE and testing must remain.
The new guidance, updated from last Monday, indicated that care homes no longer have to impose limits on the number of 'named' visitors that they can see, but they can still be limited to short periods, smaller numbers visiting at any one time and must take tests, limit close contact and wear PPE.
Jo Fogg, Director of Clinical Quality and Governance at L&M Healthcare, who own both Finney House and Hulton House in Preston, said that she is 'pleased' to be able to follow new government guidance in facilitating more visits after what has been a challenging 17 months.
She added: "We are all so pleased to be able to support the easement of visiting restrictions for our residents, it has been a long time coming and we are already seeing the positive impact of increased social contact for our residents.
"From March 2020 the lives of our residents have been significantly impacted by the Covid pandemic. Not only have they been one of the highest risk groups susceptible to the virus, but they have also spent 17 months separated from their loved ones, be that family, friends or both, which has been really sad for everyone concerned.
"However, these visits still have to be risk assessed to ensure our residents are not being placed at wider risk and are subject to further guidance by the relevant local authorities.
"It is difficult to understand the full impact of the visiting restrictions on our residents' mental well-being mainly due to the fact that we support individuals with a diagnosis of dementia and their ability to express their worries and anxieties can be significantly impaired.
"The husband of one of our residents was in tears when he realised he could visit his wife without too many restrictions. He said they had been married for 57 years and being separated for so long had been distressing for him. He said that up until the pandemic hit in March 2020 they had seen each other every day of their lives."
Double-vaccinated care home staff were also handed the news that from July 19, they no longer had to self-isolate and could return to work under exceptional circumstances, to relieve pressure on the NHS and care sector.
Care home residents are now no longer forced to choose their named visitors between their family and friends, as since the restrictions were lifted, there are no limits on the number of selected visitors that can come into the home.
Brookside care home, at Clayton Brook, Bamber Bridge, has begun facilitating more frequent visits, with up to four people allowed at any one time in their large well-ventilated conservatory or outside.
Manager Louise Newton said: "We are still being extremely careful, especially in light of the Delta variant and high cases in Lancashire. We have been told it is likely our residents will get the booster jab in September so that will be another step back towards normality.
"All our visitors must still take a lateral flow test and wear full PPE, and residents can now go out with their families again but we ask that they try to stay in the open air to make sure they stay safe.
"We still consider our residents to be the vulnerable in society we have a duty to protect them the best way we can. We now have a booking system allowing a certain number of visits per day, but they can visit a lot more than when the restrictions first lifted and it was just one visit for an hour every week.
"The relatives are so understanding because we have been so careful since day one but they are so happy that more family members can now come in and see their relatives for the first time in so long. It has been amazing to watch.
"People are so happy to be able to have that human contact and touch back because they no longer have to see people on facetime or through the windows. It is so lovely for all of us working here to be a part of."
Ian Crabtree, Director of Adults Disability and Care Services for Lancashire County Council, added: "Lancashire's care sector has faced a huge number challenges throughout the course of the pandemic, with many actions put in place to keep residents and staff safe, including restrictions to who can visit – something that has not been taken lightly.
"Seeing these restrictions ease – with the vast majority of residents fully vaccinated – to allow friends and family to visit their loved ones, is especially satisfying.
"All residents can now have an unlimited number of named visitors who can visit regularly – something that will no doubt bring great joy to those living in our homes, but also all care homes.
"Every care home resident can also choose to nominate an essential caregiver who can visit in all circumstances, including if the care home is in an outbreak.
"These small changes will undeniably have a positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of residents in care homes.
"Seeing the joy on someone's face after seeing their loved ones in person for the first time in many months has been a wonderful sight to behold."
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, you can try our digital subscription today by clicking here.